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Most/Least Surprising Doping Suspensions

Updated: May 7, 2022

DeAndre Hopkins, the five-time All-Pro wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, was suspended on Monday for the first six games of the upcoming NFL season. The 29-year-old tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance although Hopkins and his representatives in a statement insisted, he “did not knowingly take a banned substance.” Furthermore, Hopkins is “extremely diligent about what he puts in his body” and “everyone who works with him is completely shocked by this finding.”

Cue involuntary eyeroll. Sorry DeAndre, I’m not buying it. Somehow, despite having generational wealth, a team of nutritionists and personal trainers, and a multi-billion-dollar franchise at his back, Hopkins ingested a banned substance by accident. Really? That's the best you could come up with??

To be fair, what else is he going to say? It’s not like we haven’t heard this before. Former San Diego Chargers defensive end Shawne Merriman tried this defense before he was suspended for four games in 2006. Another Chargers’ legend, tight end Antonio Gates, also never knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Same too for former Dallas Cowboys defensive back Orlando Scandrick in 2014 and New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley in 2017. None of them had any clue how these banned substances got into their bodies, apparently (I have a guess).

While their PED-defense is hardly surprising, it was a surprise, however, for many football fans to hear that Hopkins had gotten the six-game-boot. After all, Hopkins had made a name for himself by being a technician at the wide receiver position, not as a breathtaking speed threat or with overwhelming strength. That got me thinking about some of the most and least surprising PED suspensions in history. So, without further ado, here is my breakdown of the Most and Least Surprising Doping Suspensions!

Most Surprising: DeAndre Hopkins

We already covered this one. I’m sure DeAndre thinks his suspension was pretty surprising too.

Least Surprising: Rafael Palmeiro

A classic. In March of 2005, Palmeiro wagged his finger in front of Congress while stating, under oath, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." Five months later, Palmeiro was suspended for 10 games for testing positive for a steroid. The ultimate comeuppance. It’s just too bad that we as fans didn’t get to wag our collective fingers in his face before he disappeared from baseball’s spotlight.

Most Surprising: Ryan Braun

Similar to Hopkins, Braun was never an imposing figure for a professional athlete. In fact, he was more notable to the baseball media for his Jewish heritage than his stature. Unfortunately for him, a suspension didn’t pass him over (sorry, I couldn’t help it) after he was implicated in the Biogenesis of America scandal in 2013. He would be suspended for the remainder of that season (65 games), including the postseason.

Least Surprising: Diego Maradona

The Argentinian soccer legend was well-known for his exceptional play on the pitch. The “Hand of God” and the “Goal of the Century,” anyone? Unfortunately, he was also well-known for enjoying cocaine. Needless to say, when Maradona tested positive for cocaine immediately after the conclusion of a match versus Italian team S.S.C. Bari in 1991, no one was surprised. FIFA would suspend Maradona for 15 months.

Most Surprising: Dee Gordon

Another baseball player who never looked the part of a steroid user. I guess as baseball fans we were conditioned to believe the PED guys were all jacked and had heads bigger than those statues on Easter Island. Gordon was, well…not that. The 5’11”, 166 lbs. second baseman was known more for speed and making contact than for his powerful swing. That didn’t stop him from getting caught in 2016 and being suspended for 80 games.

Least Surprising: Any Sprinter/Cyclist

Do I really have to explain this one? Just take a glance at this list of names: Tyson Gay, Floyd Landis, Justin Gatlin, Ben Johnson, Justin Gatlin again, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones - all dominated their fields, all were suspended for PEDs. It honestly feels like the entire Tour de France is one big doping science project. Do you think Sha’Carri Richardson, who was banned from the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo for testing positive for marijuana, finds this all a little ironic?

Most Surprising: Manny Ramirez’s first suspension

Oh Manny. One of the greatest hitters of his generation, and also one of the game’s greatest characters. Manny Ramirez was always a source of entertainment and joy. That’s why it was so tough when he was suspended in 2009 while playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. No one wanted to believe that a beloved player like Ramirez could be a cheater.

Least Surprising: Manny Ramirez’s second suspension

Of course, Manny gets caught a second time. This was actually too predictable. Two years after serving a 50-game suspension in 2009, Manny got hit with a 100-game suspension in 2011. That’s just “Manny being Manny.”

Most Surprising: Stanley Wilson

This one hurts, although you could also argue this belongs in the “Least Surprising” category. Wilson was the fullback for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 80s and was a key member of their Super Bowl run in 1988. Despite a career marred by his cocaine addictions (hey, its was the 80s) and being suspended for two full seasons in 1985 and 1987, it looked like Wilson had turned his life, and career, around in 1988. However, on the eve of the Super Bowl, the Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson found Wilson in his bathroom, high off his ass on cocaine. The Bengals took the field the next day without Wilson and lost to the San Francisco 49ers. Wilson was later suspended for life from the NFL.

Least Surprising: Anyone who has anything to do with East Germany or Russia

Those damn commies. They just can’t let the world compete in the Olympics in peace, can they? In the 1970s East Germany, when it was still a Communist-puppet of the Soviet Union, began a state-sponsored doping program to improve performance in the Olympic games. At first it worked, but only until the world at large caught on to the East Germans’ chicanery. Since then, the full extent of the program has been revealed and the long-term damage to the athletes exposed. In 2016, the German parliament granted the victims of the program a fund of $13.65 million euros.

Even though the Soviet Union collapsed back in 1991, the Russians still kept the same Communist-cheating spirit. Since at least as far back as the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the Russians have been marred by doping scandals. After an investigation into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the International Olympic Committee concluded that Russia had engaged in a state-sponsored doping program and the country was banned indefinitely from competing. Since the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Russian athletes have been forced to compete in shame under the banner of the “Russian Olympic Committee.” For some reason, I just don’t get the feeling they’re all that ashamed about it.

Oh, and by the way, DeAndre, maybe you should look into getting a new nutritionist.

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