Scott Fowler

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis just took a big hit. Will his legacy ever recover?

Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, who has played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the team, will be suspended for the first four regular-season games of 2018 due to violating the NFL's rules on banned substances.
Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, who has played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the team, will be suspended for the first four regular-season games of 2018 due to violating the NFL's rules on banned substances. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Thomas Davis?!

Really?

The Carolina Panthers linebacker announced Friday via a video posted on his Twitter account that he will be suspended for the first four regular-season games of 2018 by the NFL because he has tested positive for a banned substance – specifically, Davis said, an estrogen blocker.

And there goes a piece of Davis’ legacy sailing out the window, tarnished forever.

It’s a nasty situation all the way around – for Davis, for Panthers fans and for a team that will now be without one of its best players for the first quarter of the 2018 season.

I was as startled by this admission as you probably were. I know some pro athletes step up to and over the line, searching for an edge. Always have. Always will. That’s why every pro sport needs drug testing.

But Davis? He’s a seven-time Panthers captain, as respected in the Carolina locker room as any player has ever been. Davis has an “aura” about him, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton once said. Newton jokingly nicknamed him “Charlotte’s sweetheart” due to Davis’ reputation. Even when Davis trash-talked – which he does constantly in practice – the linebacker’s words often seemed to be carved in stone.

“I’ve taken the same supplements for the last seven to eight years and never had any issues,” Davis said in the two-minute video. “Been tested numerous times over the years while taking the same stuff and, unfortunately, this is some of the things that happen when you take supplements.”

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Not all of the Thomas Davis legacy is erased due to one big mistake, of course. Nowhere close. Davis remains the Charlotte community leader who won the 2014 NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, as well as the fierce Panthers linebacker about to begin his 14th season after surviving three ACL tears and subsequent surgeries on the very same knee.

But Panthers fans also should not let Davis off too lightly here. Davis may believe he did nothing wrong – “I can honestly tell you guys that my conscience is clear in this situation,” he said in the video – but the NFL obviously does not agree.

Like Charles Johnson, Wes Horton and several other Panthers players through the years – which makes me wonder exactly what is going on in that Panthers locker room? — Davis now has drawn a four-game NFL suspension for a positive test on a banned substance deemed to be a performance enhancer. He has let his team down, as well as that team’s fans.

“As bad as it hurts for me to sit here and tell you guys this,” Davis said in the video, “I know it’s going to hurt a lot of people who have looked up (to) and believed in Thomas Davis over the years. Just know — in no way, in no way, have I done anything intentionally to try to cheat this game. I’m going to serve this four-game suspension and I’ll be back, ready to go, back out there with my teammates.”

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Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) celebrates a hit against Minnesota in December. Davis, 35, said in a video posted on Twitter Friday that he will be suspended for the first four games of 2018 after failing an NFL drug test due to the presence of an estrogen blocker. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

In the meantime, Shaq Thompson will likely get a chance to make a lot of plays alongside middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, as will David Mayo. Davis, who in August signed a one-year, $6.75 million contract extension to carry him through the 2018 season, will be able to go to training camp but will sit out a month of the regular season.

Davis announced his suspension before the NFL or the Panthers did, breaking the news himself. Give him credit for that — he didn’t hide behind a press release with a canned statement obviously written by a PR person. He took the hit.

Said Davis in the video: “I’ve never tested positive for a steroid or HGH, it’s not one of those situations … I just want you guys to know that in no way would I do anything … to cheat this game or try to create a competitive advantage over anybody. I’ve always tried to do things the right way, and that’s something I will continue to do when I’m able to get back on the field.”

This won’t stain No. 58 as deeply as Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been stained over the past five months. Unlike Richardson’s alleged workplace behavior – detailed in Sports Illustrated in December only hours before the owner suddenly announced he was selling the team – Davis, 35, can come back from this. Julius Peppers did. How many people even remember that future Hall of Famer Peppers tested positive for a banned substance in 2002 and lost four games of his Panthers rookie season?

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Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson drives Thomas Davis in a golf cart prior to a 2013 game. Richardson and Davis have maintained a close bond for more than a decade. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Of course, Peppers’ error came at the beginning of his career, not at the end.

Davis announced in January that 2018 would be his last year, although he ended the video on a curious note, saying: “Who knows? Maybe this isn’t my last year.”

In his statement on Twitter that accompanied the video, Davis wrote: “This is by far one of the saddest days of my NFL career. I never thought that this would happen to me. I’ve worked extremely hard to do things the right way on and off the field. Panther Nation please know that I am not a cheater.”

Nevertheless, this omelet can never be totally unscrambled again.

And Davis – long thought to be a shoo-in for his own statue outside the stadium one day and the nearest thing to Sam Mills the Panthers have employed in their locker room over the past dozen years – will never be thought of in exactly the same way again.

So I’d agree with Davis on one point in particular about the whole affair:

This is a very sad day.

Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis Sr. hints at his future in Charlotte during move-out day at Bank of America Stadium





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