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May 19, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Irvin’s dreads are gone now he must rebuild reputation

MORGANTOWN — A couple of days back Bruce Irvin sat down in a barber’s chair — stylist’s chair, if you prefer — and made a dramatic and what had to be traumatic move.

He had his dreadlocks removed.

These had become to Irvin what muscles were to Arnold Schwarzenegger, swagger was to Chad Johnson, what ‘Hey Jude’ was to the Beatles.

Like Sampson, the dreads had come to represent his strength, all he had accomplished as he rose off the streets and out of poverty and trouble to become a football superstar, his life changed by his own desire and a couple of years at West Virginia University.

But he had had the dreads for six years, and the time had come to move forward with his life.

Two days later, after the symbols of what he had become fell to the barbershop floor, Bruce Irvin’s life came crashing down upon him, the NFL announcing that one year after he had been a first-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL draft he had been handed a four-game suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

It was, in many ways, a stunning charge, for all too often those who are taken down by such accusations are physical freaks along the Jose Canseco line, men molded from steroid use to unnatural proportions.

The rap on Irvin was, however, not one that he had grown freakishly, for he was said to be undersized.

But, it appears, that he had not been caught up in the steroid craze, but possibly been led into a different area of PED use, one that over the past couple of years has become almost of epidemic proportions in Seattle.

Irvin joined Jon Moffitt, Allen Barbre, Winston Guy and Brandon Browner as players suspended from Seattle while another, Richard Sherman, also was suspended but won an appeal.

Moffitt, Browner and Sherman were linked to te drug Adderall, which is not a steroid but instead a psychostimulant sometimes used to treat attention-deficit disorders.

“The day we had the info on it, I was held out,” Moffitt told the Seattle Times, “I was holding out my first day so I really didn’t know. I don’t think guys realize because it is a medication also. There’s a lot of cases where guys already had prescriptions, but not through the league. It’s just a really weird thing. It’s not like steroids.”

There was no indication this was what Irvin was using, but in his reaction to the suspension he referenced a “medical exemption” — something that would be required for Adderall use by an NFL player — and the Seahawks’ history with Adderall invites questions about whether Irvin also used the substance.

Knowing Irvin, one doesn’t question whether he could be led into using PEDs in order to succeed in football, but one finds it far easier to believe that this was something that may have been presented to him as something a different category than the traditionally banned drugs.

That is not to say that Irvin didn’t know it was wrong.

Irvin’s reaction to his punishment was as standup and straightforward as any as you have ever heard, taking full responsibility for his actions but adding a heartfelt statement of sorrow as he apologized for letting down those who had placed so much faith in him.

“I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and Seahawks fans for making a mistake when I took a substance that is prohibited in the NFL without a medical exemption,” Irvin said in a statement released by the team. “I am extremely disappointed in the poor judgment I showed and take full responsibility for my actions.

“I will not appeal the discipline and instead will focus my energy on preparing for the season so I can begin earning your trust and respect again. I look forward to contributing to the team the moment I return.”

Irvin could have stopped there, but there was something else he was feeling deep inside, a feeling that too many others who have been so caught up in only themselves that they could not experience any feelings for the effect their actions had on those close to them.

“It’s crazy to see your name run across the ticker for negative things. I messed up and I feel so bad and have been depressed for weeks now. I’ve had sleepless nights because I knew when this came out, I would let so many people down, including myself. I have worked so hard to rebuild my image and it takes another blow. I see the negative comments and the positive and both drive me to come back and have an incredible season.”

Irvin also had words for is West Virginia fans.

“12th man, I’m sorry I let you down but I promise you when I come back — all hell will break loose. West Virginia, I love you always and know you have my back and always will. Love on my fans and shout out to my haters — I know you loving it right now!”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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