NEW YORK — A positive drug test notwithstanding, Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing is still The Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Five days after he was suspended without pay for four games, a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL voted again to give Cushing the award. He didn't receive anywhere near the 39 votes of his previous landslide victory, but the 18 he got in Wednesday's revote were enough to reclaim the honor.
"I was just glad to hear the news, that people stuck by me. Very honored," Cushing said. "I'm very happy to have the award once again, and I'm just happy with how everything turned out."
Although Cushing said he took a non-steroid substance, the league still considers it a performance-enhancer.
The AP decided to have a revote, in which Cushing finished five votes ahead of Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd. Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews III got 12, Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo earned three votes, and St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis got one.
Three voters abstained. In all, 19 voters switched from Cushing to another player, and one voted for Cushing after picking Byrd originally.
"I'm good," Byrd said, referring to the result. "Yeah, I'm fine with it."
In the original balloting in January, Cushing received 39 votes to six for Byrd, three for Matthews and two for Orakpo.
Cushing did lose his spot on the All-Pro second team, for which he originally had five votes and now has just one.
"If Brian Cushing had come out with a plausible excuse as to why he failed a test for prohibited substances, he could have kept his defensive rookie of the year award as far as I was concerned," said voter Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. "But his silence was deafening, disturbing and damning."
Not to some voters.
"If I had known in January when we initially voted that Brian Cushing had tested positive for a banned substance, I might not have voted for him," said Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and president of the Pro Football Writers of America. "However, Cushing won the award in January, and I don't feel like we should revise history. I am concerned about the precedent."
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle voted for Cushing the first time and had "no problem" voting for him again.
"In good conscience, I couldn't not vote for him after voting for Julius Peppers in 2002 knowing he'd tested positive [and won the same award], and for Kevin Williams on the All-Pro team knowing he'd tested positive [in the StarCaps case].
"I also believe taking the award from Cushing would have opened up a Pandora's box when it came to players and awards. I think the AP should make it a rule that a player who tests positive is going to be subjected to a revote."
But Peter King of Sports Illustrated cited Peppers' case as a reason to change his vote.
"Two wrongs don't make a right," King said. "And just because Peppers' rookie victory in 2002 wasn't overturned … doesn't mean you continue to make the wrong decision year after year. The precedent this sets, in my opinion, is a good one. I know I have changed my mind over the past couple of years, and won't vote for any player who tests positive for any performance-enhancer."
A person familiar with Cushing's case told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Cushing tested positive for HCG, a fertility drug that is on the NFL's banned substance list. The person said Cushing had one positive test from a urine sample taken in September, then subsequently tested negative several times. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the test results were supposed to remain confidential.
Cushing is suspended without pay until Oct. 4, although he can participate in offseason workouts, training camp and preseason games. He 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.
"We respect the AP's decision to revote and the decision of the voters," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
One voter who switched from Cushing, Adam Schein of Sirius NFL Radio and foxsports.com, said he was stunned by the outcome.
"A player who tests positive for a performance-enhancing drug, especially a masking agent for steroids, should not be honored with a prestigious award," Schein said. "He failed the test in September. His season is tainted. This is wrong.
"I am very disappointed in the results of the revote and my fellow voters who voted for Cushing."