Carolina Panthers

Panthers' Thomas Davis busy preserving image 'straight garbage' suspension tarnished

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, center, has fought hard to earn his NFL Man of the Year reputation. He's fighting hard to preserve it in the face of a four-game PED suspension.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, center, has fought hard to earn his NFL Man of the Year reputation. He's fighting hard to preserve it in the face of a four-game PED suspension. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

It has been a week since Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis made the jarring announcement that he has been suspended four games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Davis has said nothing since releasing his two-minute video, although his wife, Kelly, has been on social media and a Charlotte TV station backing up Davis’ claim that he had not “done anything to try to intentionally cheat the game.”

During an appearance this week on WCCB’s ‘The Edge,’ Kelly Davis called the suspension “straight garbage” and questioned the lag time between when a player submits a urine sample in the NFL’s drug testing program and when he’s informed that he has tested positive for a banned substance.

Davis, who says he was flagged for an estrogen blocker in a supplement he has taken for the past seven to eight years, was tested during the Panthers’ bye week in mid-November, according to his wife. He learned of the violation “a long time” later, Kelly Davis said on WCCB.

She said that made it impossible for her husband to prove his innocence.

“He has no evidence or proof, because it's not like they told him right then and there, so he could say, ‘Well, look, here was my blood test that they did that same day or that they did that next week, and my blood test was fine,’” she said. “He doesn’t have anything to show them. It’s too far gone.”

The only thing Davis has is his word, which has been questioned by some critics and fans over the past seven days.

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I certainly don’t pretend to know what Davis puts in his body. I left messages with Davis, his wife and his agent this week asking for the name of the supplement, but never heard back from anyone. (Kelly Davis said during her WCCB appearance that Thomas Davis wants to address the situation with his teammates next week before doing any media interviews.)

What I do know is that Davis is very protective of his public image, one that has been bolstered through his charitable work with children both in Charlotte and his hometown of Shellman, Ga.

Making a difference

Davis was recognized as the NFL’s Man of the Year for the 2014 season, and he gave an impassioned speech challenging his NFL peers to “step up and be a village of guys that make a difference.”

Davis has made a difference on and off the field. He famously became the first player in NFL history to come back from three ACL surgeries, and he played Super Bowl 50 with a plate in his broken arm that had been stitched up and swollen like a football.

He also has drawn fines and a one-game suspension (reduced from two games) as a repeat offender following several helmet-to-helmet hits, the most recent of which put Packers wideout Davante Adams in the concussion protocol and prompted Adams to accuse Davis of “head hunting.”

Davis called the ensuing criticism “very unfair,” adding that for 13 years he has “played this game the right way.”

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The Observer and other media outlets reported last summer that Davis had a role in Panthers owner Jerry Richardson’s decision to fire general manager Dave Gettleman. Davis disputed that Gettleman’s handling of the contract situations of Davis and tight end Greg Olsen played a part in the firing.

Davis ranks with Sam Mills, Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme as all-time Panthers greats, and he might end up with his own bronze statue outside Bank of America Stadium and perhaps a role in the organization after he retires — whether that’s after this season or beyond.

A pre-emptive strike

Just as Davis has chafed over the label that he’s a dirty player, he was proactive last week getting ahead of the NFL’s announcement of the suspension and making a pre-emptive strike against the notion that he’s a drug cheat.

“I’ve never tested positive for a steroid or HGH. It’s not one of those situations. Ended up being an estrogen blocker that triggered a positive test for me,” Davis said. “I just want you guys to know that in no way would I do anything, like I said, to cheat this game or try to create a competitive advantage over anybody.”

Medical and industry experts say estrogen blockers can be used as a masking agent for steroids and other performance-enhancers because they can help mitigate their side effects and also restart the body’s natural production of testosterone.

Former UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones received a one-year ban from the sport in 2016 after testing positive for estrogen blockers.

Kelly Davis said on WCCB that other NFL players take the same supplement that got Davis in trouble.

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Experts also say the unregulated nature of the vitamins and supplements industry make for a buyer-beware situation. Because college and pro athletes make up a small percentage of their business, supplement manufacturers aren’t necessarily overly concerned about what’s on the banned list of the NCAA, NFL or other sports agencies.

“And since it’s not regulated, they don’t care what they put in there,” said Mike Colello of Aegis Sciences, a drug-testing lab in Nashville.

“So it could have antiestrogens, testosterone, steroids themselves, diuretics. And they’re not obligated to put that on the label. And if you look at the label of any supplement, you almost need a chemistry degree to cipher through and filter all the aliases that manufacturers use.”

There's an app for that

Colello, an NFL trainer for 11 years, says teams try to educate players on the potential dangers of supplement use. The NFLPA directs players to use an Aegis app to check their supplement labels against the NFL’s list of banned substances.

“This does not mean that taking a supplement will be safe as far as the NFL is concerned,” the players union says on its website. “Supplements can contain substances not listed on the labels, and the NFL holds you responsible for anything in your bodies, even if you take a substance accidentally.”

Davis is the fourth Panthers players to test positive for PEDs since November 2015. He follows defensive end Wes Horton, offensive lineman Chris Scott and defensive end Charles Johnson, all of whom also received four-game suspensions as first-time offenders.

But Davis is by far the biggest name on that list. And — more than just the $1 million-plus in salary and bonuses he’ll forfeit while sitting the first four games in 2018 — he has the most to lose.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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