By Thomas Boswell
Friday, May 21, 2010; D01
Historically, due process is not a concept that comes naturally to those at the top of the NFL pecking order. Since the 1960s when stars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras confessed their gambling sins to Pete Rozelle and were suspended from football, the normal chat between a commissioner and a player who had a hint of malfeasance was: "Confess and you might live to see the next sunrise."
These meetings, such as when Rodney Harrison admitted to Roger Goodell in 2007 that he had used HGH and was suspended for four games, are like a private audience with the Godfather, but not as friendly. So you might not want to plan on using Santana Moss at wide receiver in your fantasy football league this September.
On Tuesday, Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, the fellow who did the blood spinning for Tiger Woods's knee surgery rehab, was charged with smuggling and distributing human growth hormone. According to two sources familiar with the investigation, Moss was among the athletes treated by Galea. More worrisome, a source has told The Post that Moss was the player whom Galea's medical assistant, Mary Anne Catalano, was on her way to meet in Washington when she was arrested at the U.S.-Canada border last September with HGH, syringes and other medical equipment in her vehicle.
I give Moss the benefit of the doubt and then some -- because I suspect that the NFL will give him precious little.
Pro football picks and chooses its spots to seek the moral high road. But it desperately wants to convey the impression it is tough on performance-enhancing drugs. It's as if to say, "Please don't get suspicious, just because every decade more players look like they could bench-press your house."
The NFL isn't like baseball, where, when a player gets in hot water, the union sends lawyers, guns and money. Before a baseball commissioner can lock his eyes on a possible miscreant, the union has prepared enough paperwork to fill a Brinks truck.
With its tabby-cat union, the NFL has no such problems. The league just calls every badge in the book and asks, "What have you got on this guy?" Then, if it's bad enough, the commissioner calls you in and says: "We know everything. Give up."
The NFL's track record is that if it thinks any discipline is necessary, it will probably happen fairly fast. The NFL public relations motto should be: Turn today's bad news into tomorrow's old news.
At this point, federal prosecutors reportedly do not intend to file criminal charges against athletes with connections to Galea. So, comparatively speaking, Moss has little to worry about -- perhaps a four-game suspension like Harrison's, at worst.
However, if it turns out that Moss received HGH from Galea -- still a big "if" -- we will not need to have a lengthy ethical debate about whether or not that makes him a cheater.
Moss has had the misfortune to become part of the pharmacology and ethics debate on the same day Floyd Landis, whom I believe rides a bike, has accused various other spectacularly conditioned (but really skinny) cyclists of using PEDs. The day I express an opinion on cycling, please throw me out a window. However, I do know cheating when I see it.
When your sport has an explicitly stated rule that you can't take certain substances, such as steroids or HGH, and you break those rules, that is cheating. Always. It doesn't matter if you are trying to run faster or heal faster. What is it about "No" that is complicated?
Every area of society has rules. We debate them. Over time, we sometimes change them. Some rules, we never change. When you break the rules, you take your chances and pay the penalty.
In sports, when you are caught trying to get an edge -- in performing or in healing so you can perform -- please don't bleat, or whine through your apologists, that you are just ahead of your time and, in 20 years everybody will be doing what you're doing.
In 20 years, there will be new issues, more medical knowledge and perhaps a different climate of public opinion. But until a sport decides to change its rules, obey the current ones or be a cheater.
Am I going too fast for anybody?
When a sport says, "You can't use HGH," it's not like our athletes are being denied access to a new cure for cancer. These athletes have bad knees or damaged ligaments; they don't have a fatal disease. It's a waste of a good soap box to use it to defend athletes who break explicitly stated rules so they can get their knee to feel better quickly, or ride their bike faster, when there is plenty of medical evidence that steroids (for example) can do damage to the health of young athletes who copy the pros who use them.
Sometimes, it seems only athletes themselves understand that trying to catch the cheaters -- for the benefit of everyone -- doesn't mean despising or ostracizing everyone who's caught.
The Washington Redskins certainly know the difference.
"There's no excuse. Everybody know that we can't use that," defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "HGH, you know what that is . . . no excuse."
However, defensive end Andre Carter saw the opposite, and also valid side of the problem.
"Regardless, if he did or didn't make that mistake, he's still family," Carter said of any teammate who might have used HGH. "We won't turn our backs on him."
Breaking the rules of a pro sport is hardly the worst thing that human beings do. Let's not waste our deep outrage on pass catchers and bike riders. Try hard to find out who broke the rules. Hand out the discipline. Then get over it. It's sports, not murder.
This season, former slugger Mark McGwire is back with the Cardinals as a hitting coach. He fooled a lot of people for a long time, got some records he didn't deserve and made more millions than he would have if he had played the game the same way that, for instance, Ken Griffey Jr., seems to have done. It's easy to understand why he was tempted and made the wrong decision. But he paid a huge price, in all kinds of pain, when he got caught.
Sometime this season, I hope to see Big Mac again. All in all, he's a good enough guy to suit me. I plan to say, "How's it goin'?" talk some ball and, hopefully, pick up where we left off years ago.
You don't have to rationalize away the fact that someone cheated before you can walk up and shake their hand again.