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Friday, November 8
Updated: November 9, 10:34 PM ET
Bush considering lawsuit over suspension

By Len Pasquarelli

Justice in the NFL is hardly the same as justice in the real world and so, while Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Lew Bush has already been deemed as guilty by a league tribunal that suspended him four games for violation of the substance and steroid abuse program, the 10-year veteran might still seek recourse in a real-world court of law.

Bush on Wednesday evening was officially suspended for four games, a sanction that will cost him $235,294.11 in base salary, after he tested positive weeks ago for the banned stimulants ephedrine and Ma Huang. Now he is considering a lawsuit against the manufacturer of a sports drink supplement he used to regularly consume, and one has to wonder if such litigation might indeed have a least a scintilla of merit.

Certainly an appeal of such a suspension has no chance in the NFL world, where players have been warned about the risks of using supplements, and where even the NFL Players Association sides with the league stance on such matters. The basic mindset of the NFL, frequently reiterated by NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, is that every league player is personally responsible for what goes into his body.

No label on the supplement? No excuse. You drink it or swallow it or shoot it up, and your urine sample turns up dirty in the NFL's routine testing, and the jig is up. It is the ultimate caveat emptor warning: Your body. Your problem. Don't come crying to us with a grievance.

Bush does feel aggrieved, however, and is considering his options outside of the NFL, speaking with his agents and attorneys about possible recourse. In the casual talking stages only, a suit against the manufacturer of the banned substance remains a possibility, although Bush probably won't pursue any of the potential remedies until after the season.

"Lew didn't do this intentionally," said his agent, Harold Lewis. "Was it a poor judgment on his part? Especially after all the attention the league paid to the ephedrine testing that was coming up this year? Yeah, probably so. But he didn't walk into a store and purposely buy a supplement that he knew the NFL had banned. That would be crazy."

Neither the player nor the agent have identified the supplement or its maker. But sources have told ESPN.com that the supplement was something called "Pro Performance/Pro Orange." The supplement has been recalled, and even Bush had a difficult time finding it, so that he could at least show the NFL the label included no mention of ephedrine. The manufacturer, GNC, even produced an affidavit to support Bush's claim.

But herein lies a problem: There is essentially no control of supplements in this country. There hasn't been since 1994, when the feds passed the Dietary Supplement and Health and Education Act, which deregulated the industry. Labeling is slipshod. Ingredients and doses vary. Quality control is lax.

In essence, the government has promoted ignorance, and then insisted that ignorance is not a defense. Certainly the latter part of the equation mirrors the league's stance on supplements. No one need phone the commissioner's office and suggest they simply didn't understand what they were taking, or that the bottle was mislabeled or confusing. The league doesn't want to hear it and it's difficult, given the measures it has taken to educate its players, to argue that philosophy.

"Their rules are their rules," said agent Joe Linta, who represents Chicago quarterback Jim Miller, suspended four games in 1999 after testing positive for a banned substance contained in an over-the-counter supplement that he used. "They don't want to hear any excuses."

There was, indeed, much accompanying publicity when the league decided it would begin testing for ephedrine this summer. Essentially, the league was reacting to the death of Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer last summer, and to the various health risks involved in using supplements that might contain stimulants which increase heart rate and elevate blood pressure. A player would have to have been living in a cave not to have been aware of the ban.

But some people close to Lew Bush insist that any individual has the right to inherent protections when they walk into a store, a legitimate business place and not some darkened alley, and purchase a product. Given the dearth of regulation in this country's supplements industry, it will take a pretty clever lawyer to convince a jury of that, but Bush feels wronged enough to be seeking out such a savant of jurisprudence.

Actually pursuing such a lawsuit remains a long shot at best. But the fact Bush is so strongly considering it should put the supplements industry, and maybe some federal agencies, on notice.

Side Lines
Don't let the statistics deceive you: San Francisco defensive tackle Bryant Young has only one sack, sure, but the 49ers star remains one of the most active and disruptive interior linemen in the league. On Sunday, he will be part of one of the best individual matchups of the weekend, when he battles Kansas City Chiefs guard Will Shields, like Young, a perennial Pro Bowl performer. Some people have suggested that Shields was a player in decline the past two seasons, but no one could say that if they watched tape of his 2002 outings. There will be times, when Young moves to the right side of the defense, that he will encounter Brian Waters. A young guard on the rise, and a player some people feel is quickly becoming the equal of Shields, the three-year veteran is quietly having an excellent year. But the main event for much of the game will be Young-Shields, a matchup that could determine the productivity of Chiefs tailback Priest Holmes, and which could go a long way toward determining the outcome.
The List
For years, Detroit Lions tailback Barry Sanders led the league in rushes for negative yardage, largely because he viewed every attempt as a touchdown waiting to happen and was always trying to make the big play. Since he left the game, the dubious distinction of leading the NFL in negative rushes has been spread around. Here's a look at the six tailbacks who, at the halfway point of this season, have 20 or more rushes for negative yardage:
Player Team No.
Travis Henry Bills 23
L. Tomlinson Chargers 22
D. McAllister Saints 21
Emmitt Smith Cowboys 21
Priest Holmes Chiefs 20
J. Wells Texans 20
Stat of the Week
Jeff Blake gets the start at quarterback again for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, and the game is particularly significant for the 11-year veteran, since it comes against a Cincinnati Bengals team that once dumped him. Blake always felt ill-treated by Bengals management, but some Cincinnati folks recall him as a guy who wanted little more than to put the ball in the air 40 times a contest, sometimes at the expense of the game plan. In fact, in Blake's 60 starts for the Bengals, the team had only six individual 100-yard rushing performances. In the 40 games since, they have had 12.
Stat of the Weak
There has long been a suspicion that Bill Belichick is able, because of his exotic defensive game plans, to get inside the head of quarterback Drew Bledsoe. It's not certain if Belichick got inside Bledsoe's head during last week's 38-7 victory, but the New England Patriots certainly got inside his backfield, harassing him the entire day. The loss dropped Bledsoe's record against Belichick-coached defenses to 4-5. Almost as significant, the game pointed out how much better Belichick is than the rest of the league at being able to control Bledsoe. In nine games against Belichick defenses, Bledsoe has completed 191 of 350 passes for 2,152 yards, with 10 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and an efficiency rating of 66.2. Against the rest of the league, Bledsoe has a quarterback rating of 78.1. His numbers are better against the rest of the league in every category than his stats against Belichick defenses.
The Last Word
Pittsburgh strong safety Lee Flowers, on the challenge of trying to contain Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in Sunday's game at Heinz Field: "You have to be very disciplined defensively. You have to mind your P's and Q's. And your A-B-C's and X-Y-Z's, too. If you aren't perfect, though, you can forget about all those letters, because he'll put up big numbers."

Around the league

  • The current three-game winning streak by the Tennessee Titans, a surge that has carried the team to the top of the AFC South and now made it the favorite in that dramatically devalued division, has quashed the hopes of a few league owners who were hoping Jeff Fisher might become available. It was only a month ago, recall, that Titans owner Bud Adams opined that it appeared Tennessee was being "outcoached" at times. We noted then that Adams was likely just speaking out of frustration, after an ugly loss to the Washington Redskins, but some owners interpreted the outburst as a signal that the highly-respected Fisher might be in trouble. Two owners who may make coaching changes at season's end, one in each conference, allowed to ESPN.com that Fisher would head their wishlist if he was shown the door by Adams. "I'd be on the phone in a heartbeat to (agent Marvin) Demoff, setting up a meeting with Fisher, and I'd come to the meeting with contract in hand," said one owner. But even before the Titans' resurrection, there was virtually no shot Fisher would be bounced, and the chances basically are nonexistent now. All those owners who were scoreboard-watching, looking every Sunday afternoon to check out how the Titans were faring, can get back to watching their own games now.

  • Jimmy Smith
    It's beginning to look like Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver, who spent the summer preaching fiscal responsibility and then reworked the contract of wide receiver Jimmy Smith anyway, made a huge mistake when he caved in to a guy who boycotted all of training camp despite having a signed deal. His numbers suggest he is still playing at a high level, but anyone who has watched tape of Smith, or spoken to cornerbacks around the league, has to agree the veteran is beginning to decline. Smith is on pace for 86 catches and 1,200-plus yards, nice numbers for most wideouts. But this is a guy who over the last six years averaged 94 receptions and 1,328 yards. It's obvious that Smith can't separate from cornerbacks like he used to, or get deep with the kind of regularity he once had. The tip-off to Smith's decline came after the Jags' loss to the New York Giants last Sunday night, when coach Tom Coughlin publicly acknowledged he "expected more" from his star wideout. This came after a game in which Smith posted a season-best 10 catches. Some injuries, the camp-long holdout, and old age have all caught up to Smith. But as bad as things are on the field, the worst part for the Jags is that they erred off the field by capitulating to Smith's contract demands. They're paying him $7.5 million this year: a signing bonus of $6.35 million, base salary of $650,000, roster bonus of $450,000 and workout bonus of $50,000. For the 2003 season, Smith has a base salary of $3.25 million and a cap value of $6.453 million. In 2004, those numbers rise to $3.5 million and $6.803 million. In general, Weaver did a good job getting the Jaguars' runaway cap woes under control. But he had a soft spot for Smith and it will cost him in the long run.

  • Raiders officials are excited again about the future of third-year veteran wide receiver Jerry Porter, a second-round selection in the 2000 draft, but a player who had been a disappointment until recently. Porter's numbers at the midway point of the season -- 34 catches, 463 yards and five touchdowns -- already surpass his aggregate stats for his first two years in the league and some Oakland insiders feel that he has outplayed Tim Brown. The former West Virginia University star has great size, explosiveness and athleticism. Since he played primarily at defensive back in college, he didn't get a lot of exposure at wide receiver, and was very raw when the Raiders chose him. That lack of experience certainly showed over his first two seasons. Over the last several games, though, the light has gone on for Porter and coaches are thrilled with his production. He may be a No. 3 receiver now but, given the ages of Brown and Jerry Rice, it's not long until he'll become the No. 1 option in the Oakland passing attack.

  • Speaking of the Raiders, some team officials are urging owner Al Davis to propose a change to the overtime system, when league owners convene at the annual meetings next March. The Raiders have now lost three straight overtime games, including two this season, and haven't touched the ball in the extra stanza of any of them. In last week's loss to the 49ers, the Raiders defense was on the field an excruciatingly long time. Counting the fourth quarter and the overtime, San Francisco essentially had the ball for the last 30 plays of the game, and for more than 15 minutes in scoreboard clock time. "You thought you were going to die," said Raiders cornerback Tory James. "It was brutal." Davis typically doesn't present proposals for rules changes, because he knows they'll probably just get shot down, but he might consider his team's overtime travails and suggest an alteration to the way the league plays out tie games.

  • Rams officials have downplayed the visit, but it's notable that a few weeks ago, team president Jay Zygmunt and general manager Charlie Armey were at Southern California to get a look at quarterback Carson Palmer. The two high-ranking team officials explained the trip as just the normal annual junket they take, but Palmer is one of the few quarterbacks whose stock in the 2003 draft is actually rising, and there remain questions about the future of Kurt Warner with the Rams.

  • Interesting conundrum being faced by Arizona Cardinals officials, who have two high-profile pending free agents, quarterback Jake Plummer and wide receiver David Boston. As noted here in recent weeks, the Cardinals will spend the second half of the season trying to determine if Plummer is the guy to lead them into the future. They don't have that luxury now with Boston, who followed up a breakout 2001 campaign with an uneven first eight games this year, but who is probably lost for the rest of the schedule because of a knee injury. In the case of Plummer, the Cardinals overpaid once for him, and will be wary about making the same mistake. At the same time, if they don't retain Plummer, who replaces him? With Boston, it will be difficult to throw a lot of money at a player who soon will be rehabbing from fairly extensive knee surgery. "Let's just say," acknowledged one club official, "we've got a lot of thinking to do." On the plus side, according to NFL Players Association salary documents, the Cardinals have a league-low $34 million in cap room committed to 2003. That leaves them roughly $40 million in available spending room.

  • Vinny Testaverde
    Although there hasn't been any public animus, don't look for Vinny Testaverde to return to the New York Jets in 2003. Forget all the posturing and kissy-face rhetoric, since Testaverde feels that he was mistreated by the team when it benched him last month in favor of Chad Pennington. Even if he can't find a starting possibility elsewhere, Testaverde probably wouldn't return to New York as a backup. In fact, he might retire instead. As for the red-hot Pennington, the Jets still would like to see him take more chances. The third-year veteran has been uncannily accurate, has protected the ball well, and is playing beyond the wildest dreams of New York coaches (even if they won't admit that). But the knock has always been that Pennington is a bit too cerebral and he hasn't totally shaken that criticism.

  • It's far too early to assign any credence to the rumors that Michigan State is interested in Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis for the vacancy created when Bobby Williams was jettisoned earlier this week. Spartans sources told ESPN.com that athletic department officials have yet to begin assembling a "short list" and that the process is at least a week away from commencing. Plus there is certainly no guarantee that Lewis will be interested in a college job. He has summarily rejected such inquiries in the past, including two in the past eight months, because his goal remains an NFL head coaching position. Given all of the attention about diversity in the league, generated by threats from Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri that they will attempt to litigate minority coaches into key coaching and management spots, it would be naÏve to believe that Lewis won't get meaningful interviews in the coming offseason. Plus it's not easy to win at Michigan State, which goes head-to-head with Notre Dame and Michigan in recruiting, and which must clean up some scandals. One guy who will be contacted, even if by a third party, is 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci. He is best friends, remember, with Spartans head basketball coach Tom Izzo, and the two have always spoken of working together. Chances are, though, that "Mooch" won't be interested in the job.

  • Perhaps sensing that he is in big trouble, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren -- who has more titles than just about anyone in the league -- is confiding to close friends that he might be willing to relinquish some power to retain his job. Still one of the game's premier coaching talents, Holmgren may have finally convinced himself that he is best at coaching, and that the personnel decisions might be better left to someone else. Could that someone else be former New Orleans general manager Randy Mueller, who once ran the Seahawks front office? Mueller's name has surfaced a lot of places in the past few days, as he sits out the 2002 campaign after being fired by the Saints, but not yet in Seattle. Rest assured, though, that if other teams are considering Mueller, the Seahawks will be, too.

  • Beating a Holmgren-coached team must have made Washington's Steve Spurrier a little lightheaded last week. After dispatching the hapless Seahawks, the Ol' Ball Coach announced to Redskins players that the rest of the league better look out, because Washington is a playoff team. Even some veterans claim to have chuckled at the suggestion. On the plus side, kudos to the Redskins for having resurrected the career of guard Tré Johnson. The team turned to the often-injured veteran out of desperation, essentially because the Redskins seemed to have tried every other retread guard in the league, and Johnson has played well in two games.

  • Here's one of those free agent signings this spring that never made any sense for either side: The Indianapolis Colts signed former Tennessee starting linebacker Greg Favors to a two-year contract, knowing full well they had nowhere to play the four-year veteran. No, it didn't cost the Colts much, just a $400,000 signing bonus, and base salaries of $525,000 (2002) and $800,000 (2003). But the team already had three linebackers that it liked -- although no one can yet figure why the organization is still hot for underachieving middle 'backer Rob Morris, a short-armed defender who rarely makes a big play -- and it wasn't as if Favors was going to be thrilled about being a backup and playing on special teams. The upshot is that the Colts never found a way to activate Favors, a pretty decent player in his own regard, and he didn't get on the field for a single snap. Indianapolis this week ate its investment in Favors and released him. The Colts would have been better off never having signed him, and Favors would be way ahead had he just remained with the Titans for another season.

  • Jeff Ulbrich
    As ESPN.com reported earlier this week, the San Francisco 49ers made a classy move, extending the contract of fullback Terry Jackson for two more years even though the four-year veteran and special teams standout is on the injured reserve list right now. Turns out the 49ers also made a savvy move this week, extending the contract of third-year linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, and tying him to the club through the 2006 season. Ulbrich, who would have been eligible for restricted free agency next spring, received a signing bonus of $1.2 million. His base salary for the 2002 season, $375,000, remained the same. The bases for the extension part of the contract are $450,000 (2003), $750,000 (2004), $1.2 million (2005) and $1.5 million (2006). Ulbrich is a very good player, extremely versatile, and might have generated fairly good interest as a restricted free agent. But the extension puts an additional $1.2 million in his bank account right now and is worth $5.1 million total in so-called "new money."

  • Punts: On the subject of San Francisco linebackers, the 49ers brass will closely watch the conditioning of rookie Saleem Rasheed over the next few weeks. A devout Muslim, Rasheed will fast during the day in the month of Ramadan, which began on Wednesday morning. Rasheed did the same thing in college, at Alabama, and it didn't seem to affect his play. But the 49ers are concerned that Rasheed, a young player with a very bright future, will lose some weight and muscle mass during his fast period. ... The Pittsburgh defensive staff spent much time this week picking the brain of wide receiver Terance Mathis on the nuances of the Atlanta offense. Mathis played the last eight seasons with the Falcons, before being released in the spring, and he filled up the coaches' notebooks with information. ... Dallas coaches feel they got the steal of the draft in cornerback Derek Ross, a third-round pick, and a guy whose lottery stock dropped dramatically because of injuries and off-field problems. Ross has quickly become the best cover player in the Dallas secondary. ... Another solid middle-round pick: Buffalo strong safety Coy Wire, who leads all rookie defenders in tackles so far. ... Despite yet another entreaty from Colts officials, unemployed tailback Ricky Watters plans to remain retired until some team offers more than the minimum salary. "If that never happens," said agent Ralph Cindrich, "then so be it. He'll still have had a great career."

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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