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Patriots' suspensions no surprise

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  November 28, 2012 10:52 AM

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Bill Belichick called the Patriots' recent suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs "situations,", labeled them "unfortunate," said that "neither one of them had to happen." That is an awful lot of commentary and information from a man who typically refers to things like that as "league matters," which cannot help but make one wonder exactly what the Patriots are trying to accomplish.

Adderall, Bill? Please. We are dumb, to be sure, but we're not that dumb. Brandon Bolden is an undrafted rookie who opened eyes during training camp and is built like a two-legged mailbox. Jermaine Cunningham blew up like a Puffer Fish. If Adderall can do that to a human body, there are college kids everywhere cramming for exams and looking like LaRon Landry.

So the Patriots have had a couple of guys popped for PEDs. Three if you count Aqib Talib, who was in the midst of a four-game substance (allegedly for, you guessed it, Adderall) when the Patriots acquired him from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fourth-round pick.

If this all comes as some type of surprise to you, you are either in a state of denial or have not been paying attention. The list of Patriots players involved in some sort of drug or PED issue in recent years now includes Rodney Harrison (HGH), Nick Kaczur (oxycodone), and Brandon Spikes, not to mention Bolden, Cunningham, and Talib. Several years ago, Tom Brady's name surfaced in an investigation of Greg Anderson, the Bay Area trainer who worked with Barry Bonds and who was exposed in the infamous BALCO case. Over the summer, during our sun-splashed clambakes on the Cape, we still do not talk about that.

And you know why? Because many of us really do not care. Because we want to be entertained. And because we long ago accepted that drugs are now as much a part of sports as FieldTurf, a platform on which the games are played.

The Patriots aren't necessarily dirty, folks. They're just not any cleaner than anybody else. Let's all make sure we understand the difference. Here in New England, we like to pride ourselves on a traditional value system that places the emphasis on all the right things. Education over sport. Family over business. The group before the individual. But we have our share of issues, too, and what really makes us different is that we acknowledge them.

In their defense, the Patriots are not alone in this regard. And we're not talking solely about the NFL. The 2004 Red Sox are regarded as heroes in these parts - and for obvious reasons. But the fact remains that the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters on that Red Sox team, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, have both since been identified as having failed tests for performance-enhancing substances. Ortiz was the Most Valuable Player of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Ramirez was the MVP of the World Series.

Football is something altogether different, of course, something Belichick certainly knows, even if he would not necessarily say it. Many human beings just cannot put their bodies through what the average NFL player endures without at least a little bit of help. In a place like the NFL, the drugs are part of the deal. Without them, you don't get the bone-jarring hits, the acrobatic catches, the breathtaking runs and extraordinary, jaw-dropping fearlessness.

Think about it: since when does Belichick engage in discussion - or simply answer a question - about anything that even brushes up against something remotely controversial? When the Patriots traded for Talib, Belichick dismissed any questions about the player, chalking it up as league matter. Then a second Patriots player gets suspended for failing the league's policy against performance enhancers, and Belichick hints that the transgressions were minor and that "neither one of them had to happen."

Sounds like spin control to me. The last time Belichick was so forthcoming, he was apologizing for grabbing the arm of an official in the wake of the Baltimore loss, undoubtedly concerned that he would face disciplinary action well beyond a fine.

The point: Bill talks when it serves Bill to talk. After the Baltimore game, he wanted everyone to know he was sorry. Now he wants everyone to know that the Patriots are making foolish and unnecessary decisions based on Adderall, not Winstrol.

Maybe you buy that, maybe you don't. Like Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense," we all generally see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. If you choose to think that the Patriots run an entirely clean operation that has just recently had a couple of missteps related to Adderall, you certainly have the right. Then you must say the same about the Seattle Seahawks, who just had two defensive backs flagged, or the New Orleans Saints.

The rest of us, meanwhile, will continue to see the NFL - and professional sports - as what they are: a huge moneymaking operation that puts absurd physical demands on the laborers who are, in this case, the players. A few years ago, lest anyone forget, the Washington Capitals were linked to a steroids dealer in Florida. The Bruins undoubtedly have their users. So do the Celtics. So did the American cycling team.

In this day and age, with regard to performance enhancing substances, following professional sports is akin to being married to the mob. Don't ask. Don't tell. But when someone gets popped for failing a drug test, don't defend him or blame him, describe it as "unnecessary" or pin it on Adderall.

As a fan, after all, you bought in a long time ago.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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