When Antonio Gates runs out of the Chargers inflatable tunnel and returns to the playing field on Monday Night, I expect that there will be a loud thunderous roar from Chargers fans. It will probably be even louder when he catches his first reception. Even louder still when he hits paydirt. His return adds yet another bullet to QB Philip Rivers weaponry. He is a welcomed addition.
But lost amidst the cheers and hi-fives on Monday night may be a few quiet boos. The grumblings that I fear will pepper Qualcomm may be even louder than I expect.
And as gameday approaches, I am having a hard time deciding which side of the fence I'm going to be sitting on.
The mixed feelings I have are because one of my favorite players tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. It's the reason Gates is making his season debut 4-weeks into the season. I keep asking myself if I have fully forgiven him yet.
Too be fair, Gates has claimed all along that he ‘did not knowingly' ingest the PED's and released a statement taking full responsibility for his mistake. He did the crime, and he did his time. It should be an easy case for me to get over and move on.
But it's not that easy for me.
Gates was/is the only surefire Hall of Famer currently on the roster. (Rivers may need a Super Bowl Ring for the HOF). I used to spew off stats when I would debate his HOF worthiness. He was the first wave of former college basketball stars to play in the NFL. He's been elected to nine Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro five times. Now, those debaters shut my argument down just by saying PEDs. Gates is even having to defend his legacy himself, as he has even gotten into a back-and-forth with a current Hall of Famer, former Tight End Shannon Sharpe.
When news broke that Gates was suspended, Sharpe was front and center to put into question the validity of Gate's career. Sharpe even wondered if Gates had been using PEDs beyond the previous year.
"It calls into question everything that he's ever accomplished," Sharpe said. "If he does it at the beginning of his career because he was an undrafted free agent, people are gonna say he did it to get in the league. Now he did it Year 13, Year 14 -- People are going to say he did it to remain in the league. It does, it makes you question everything someone has ever accomplished."
This week Gates re-awakened the Sharpe feud by saying he thinks Sharpe made those comments because Gates is close to passing him in the record books. Gates is only 28 catches and 47 yards away from passing Sharpe for third place among all tight ends in NFL history.
Gates finished by saying "So I guess if he can find a way to tarnish something I think he probably would."
To which Sharpe replied with "Antonio Gates, your anger, your frustration is pointed in the wrong direction," Sharpe said. "When you walk by the mirror, take a peek to your right or your left. That's the guy you should be upset with, not me. We played the same position. We played it at a very high level. But you tried to take a shortcut somewhere along the way and I never did. And that's not my fault, that's yours."
I would love to believe that Gates took the supplements and holistic medicines only before the 2015 season. But we will never know. Often when these types of things happen to players on other teams, fans are quick to point fingers and throw stones. But this time it happened to a player on our favorite team.
And to be consistent within myself, I feel like I have to treat Gates like I would if it was Tom Brady or J.J. Watt. I know I wouldn't stop scorning them whenever the situation presented itself, whether it's on Brady's next milestone touchdown pass or Watt's next superhuman play.
But it really comes down to simple human nature, or at least what I think is basic humanity. I liken the situation to having one of your children fail big for the first time. First you feel disappointment. Then you deal punishment. Your child fulfills penance. You hope your child never does it again. And you marvel at his or her growth.
Most importantly, you stick by your child's side. And you stop casting stones at other peoples mistakes.
I guess Gates isn't the only one who has learned a lesson.
On Monday Night I welcome you back Antonio Gates.