NEW YORK — Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said he knew during the 2009 season that linebacker Brian Cushing had "an issue" with the NFL, but had no details from the league of what it concerned.
Cushing was suspended by the league last week for violating its steroid policy. Although Cushing admitted taking a non-steroid banned substance, it is still considered performance-enhancing by the league. He did not identify the substance he took.
Cushing was voted The Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year at the end of the season – part of the AP's annual awards honoring outstanding on-field performance by players. As a result of the penalty and admission, the AP is taking a revote for the defensive rookie award plus All-Pro outside linebacker. Cushing received five votes in that category and made the second team. He is still among the nominees in the revote.
Cushing was a runaway winner for the rookie award in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the league. He received 39 votes, easily beating Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, who had six.
"This is the first time we've encountered an issue like this," said Lou Ferrara, AP's managing editor for sports and entertainment. "Because these awards are based on on-field performance, we consider it necessary to review the matter and allow for a revote, especially after concerns were raised by many of our voters."
McNair criticized the suspension and appeal process because, he said, it doesn't provide enough information to the team.
"The club is left completely out of the loop on that," McNair said. "We're not even notified, it's the league and the player and the players' union. All we know is what's been announced at this point in time."
Cushing is suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2010 season, even though he said he took the substance in September, the first month of the 2009 schedule. He appealed the ban and a final decision was handed down last week.
"Brian had mentioned that he had an issue there, but we don't know what any of the details are, we don't know what doctors he may have consulted with, we don't know what evidence that the league might have had ... which is a very bad position to be in because we're the guy that's got the investment in the player. The league doesn't have any money invested in the player, the union doesn't have any money invested in the player, and yet they get the information and we don't.
"So it's a sensitive area because it is sort of like medical information and there's confidentiality and this sort of thing. But I think it's something that needs to be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement."
Cushing will not be eligible for next season's Pro Bowl – he made the AFC team last January, but did not play, citing several injuries – or any NFL-sponsored awards.
"In the year a player is notified of and serves his suspension, he is ineligible for selection to the Pro Bowl or to receive any other honors or awards from the league or the NFL Players Association," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said Monday.
That includes player of the week and player of the month awards, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award or the Super Bowl most valuable player award.
Cushing can participate in all training camp and preseason activities, then must leave the Texans for the first four weeks of the season.
A first-round draft pick from Southern California, Cushing had 133 tackles for the Texans, who went 9-7, their first winning record. He had five sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles, numbers that normally belong to a seasoned veteran.
But he won't be available to the Texans until Oct. 4.
"Brian, what he has said, is he's been taking the same supplements ... for the last 10 or 15 years and he's been checked umpteen times and it hadn't shown up to be any kind of problem," McNair said. "So what happened, I don't know. He doesn't know at this point in time.
"The fact (is) that he didn't think he would get the suspension, but that's the way it is at this point in time and we accept it and we need to move on."
San Diego's Shawne Merriman won the 2005 defensive rookie award, then tested positive in the 2006 offseason for steroids contained in a supplement. Carolina's Julius Peppers won the 2002 award even though he had already been suspended for the final four games of the season for violating the league's drug policy – he used a dietary supplement that contained a banned substance.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this story.