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Chiefs lineman will play sunday
Welbourn glad his ‘vacation’ is finally over
By ELIZABETH MERRILL
The Kansas City Star
Watching himself on TV this week, John Welbourn got a glimpse at his perceived bad-boy image. He rolled his eyes at a question. He didn’t apologize for his steroids suspension. He said he didn’t do anything wrong, so he went surfing for four weeks.
“If I watched that, I guess I’d think, ‘What a jerk,’ ” Welbourn said. “I’m sick of talking about it. I want to play football.”
Welbourn will finally play football Sunday, for the first time since 2004, when the Chiefs meet Washington. His four-game suspension from the NFL is over, and the logical thing for the offensive lineman with a rhetoric degree would be to fade into the background and forget about this past year.
Welbourn won’t do it. He maintained his innocence again Thursday, after a year of appeals and some collective groans from a skeptical public. Welbourn said he took an independent lie-detector test that proved no wrongdoing. He said the test was administered by Ken Shull, a former FBI polygraph chief.
The NFL told Welbourn to enjoy his four weeks off without pay. So he did, strolling Newport Beach with Bear and Rocky, his pet pit bulls, and surfing in the afternoons
“It was actually a lot of fun,” Welbourn said. “If somebody’s going to force you to take a vacation, I’m not going to sit inside and feel bad for something I didn’t feel like I had a part of. So I took it upon myself to enjoy myself and stay in shape.
“It kind of felt like playing hooky from school or something. It was a weird feeling.”
The NFL administers about 10,000 tests a year for steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Welbourn declined to speculate how his result could have turned up positive without taking steroids. But coach Dick Vermeil says he believes Welbourn, and Welbourn says all of the important people — his teammates, family and friends — have stuck behind him.
The NFL’s public-relations department didn’t return a call Friday when asked how rare an accidental false-positive would be. Howard Scalzi, a former faculty member in the anatomy department at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, said a possible medical condition could be a reason for a high steroid reading.
“I’m skeptical when the athletes say they don’t use steroids and they appeal and it’s a lengthy appeal and they lose,” Scalzi said. “There has to be some reason he had elevated steroids.”
While the Chiefs decided to deactivate Eric Warfield, another player coming off suspension, Welbourn will probably be put to use on Sunday. Welbourn played guard and tackle this week in practice, and Vermeil said he looked fresh and more comfortable than at any time last year.
While he was away from the team, Welbourn drove up to Athletes Performance in Carson, Calif., every day to work out. When people ask about his 6-foot-5, 310-pound physique, and how he got there, Welbourn tells them he’s lifted weights every day for the past 15 years.
He says his life is regimented, that he gets up each day at 6 a.m., sticks to the same diet, follows the same routine.
“If I’m not in shape,” Welbourn said, “then I’ve failed in my job and I should probably think of doing something different.”
After eight years in the NFL, Welbourn wonders whether he’s developed a reputation as a rebel or a malcontent. He had contract disputes in Philadelphia and then tested positive shortly after his arrival in Kansas City.
He rides around in custom-built choppers, listens to Metallica and voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Welbourn said he liked Arnold because he’s an outsider.
In the days since his suspension, Welbourn has felt like one, too.
“I don’t know what the learning experience is, really,” he said. “I’ve been searching for a silver lining, trying to be positive.
“I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink that much. I pretty much live my life to be a good guy and be pretty smart about it, not be a knucklehead. I wish I knew what this one was all about.”