Bears

Hard not to be suspicious of PED alibis, even from former Bears QB Mark Sanchez

Mark Sanchez should sue whoever provided him with ineffective performance-enhancing drugs. A 31-year-old benchwarmer with a career 73.9 passer rating clearly isn’t getting his hands on the good stuff.

We laugh at the ludicrousness of the situation, but it’s no joke: The NFL recently suspended the former Bears third-string quarterback for four games after he tested positive for a PED.

It’s all a big misunderstanding, Sanchez says, which is what everybody who tests positive says.

‘‘I was blindsided by the news, and I want to say unequivocally that I never cheated or attempted to gain a competitive advantage by using a banned performance-enhancing substance,’’ he said in a statement. ‘‘During the past nine years as an NFL player, I have been subject to 73 drug tests — an average of over eight tests per season — and all but one have been clean.

Then-Bears quarterback Mark Sanchez looks on during warmups before a game against the Eagles last season. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

‘‘I have taken the same regimen of supplements for the past five years without any issues. The timing and results of my tests establish circumstances of unknowing supplement contamination, not the use of performance-enhancing substances.’’

There are either a lot of guys who don’t look at the ingredients on their supplement bottles, a lot of bottles that don’t list all the ingredients or a lot of cheating players.

Sanchez very well could be telling the truth, but let’s just say belief doesn’t come easily for us weary sports observers. The number of professional athletes who have said their failed drug test was somebody else’s fault would fill a fleet of Boeing 737s. When bobsledders, archers and mixed doubles curlers fail drug tests, as they have, you realize that any kind of competition brings out the worst in humans. And when athletes blame failed drug tests on tainted tea, tainted toothpaste, tainted lip balm, tainted tortellini and too much sex — all have been used as excuses! — it’s hard to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Even someone as unlikely as a third-string quarterback.

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It’s possible to understand the idea of large offensive linemen jabbing themselves with syringes to be able to compete against large defensive linemen who have swallowed pills. It’s possible to understand the idea of linebackers taking steroids to be able to keep up with juiced running backs. It’s a little harder to understand a backup quarterback taking PEDs.

That’s what makes Sanchez’s contamination defense somewhat plausible. But then you look at the $2 million the Bears gave him last season to be a mentor to Mitch Trubisky, and you can imagine plenty of human beings doing whatever they deem necessary to get that kind of money.

With so many players failing drug tests due to what they say are contaminated supplements, why risk a suspension and a loss of salary by using them?

At this stage in his career, Sanchez isn’t a starter. He’s a very personable veteran who understands the game well enough to pass on his knowledge to someone like Trubisky, who was a rookie last season. If Sanchez stopped taking supplements that contained NFL-approved ingredients, he wouldn’t be less a mentor. He was a backup to the backup quarterback, for crying out loud! How would anyone have known if his performance were dropping off? Or, more to the point, in what ways would legal supplements help him throw a football more accurately in practice or hold a clipboard more securely on the sideline during games?

The supplement industry is largely unregulated, and surely there are athletes who have been victims of shady companies. But why aren’t we seeing a raft of lawsuits against those companies? Possibly because the athletes are indeed using PEDs.

No one who tests positive for a banned substance in sports ever says he was cheating. He says his supplement was contaminated or contained an ingredient he wasn’t aware of. That’s Chapter 2, Paragraph 5 in the sports-agent handbook: Never allow your client to admit that his medicine cabinet is a PED wonderland.

“I made a mistake and take full responsibility,” Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget said in a statement recently after getting a four-game ban. “As part of my training program, I placed my trust in someone who, in hindsight, was not well-versed in the NFL’s policy on banned substances. As players, we’re told time and again that the NFL holds you responsible for anything in your body. Even if you take it accidentally, it’s on you.’’

Notice that players almost always release statements to explain their suspension. They rarely take questions from pesky reporters who might want to know all the details, the banned substance and what advantage the banned substance might give a player. Odd, no?

It’s OK, though. It’s the NFL. Very few people seem to care when a player tests positive for a PED. He serves his suspension and resumes playing. An Olympic gold medalist fails a drug test and it’s a scandal. An NFL player tests positive and we say, “Well, duh, of course he’s taking something!’’

I’d feel better about the world in general if someone who tested positive said, “You try getting past Tyron Smith without a steroid-stacking regimen!”

I’d like to think Sanchez is telling the truth. But given sports’ ugly track record, I couldn’t bring myself to bet even a canister of protein powder on it.

Legendary Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their gritty, no-holds-barred takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.