It’s Three Strikes And Out For Viking’s Smith

By Rick Sarlat
Updated: May 24, 2005

PHILADELPHIA.—Vikings running back Onterrio Smith got served his due diligence last week when NFL officials informed him that he’s facing a suspension that could sideline him for the entire 2005 season. The action will mark the third time the three-year veteran has been reprimanded by the league for his failure to adhere to substance abuse policy.

He was given a four game respite last season after testing positive for marijuana and although the suspension may have scarred his reputation within the organization and perhaps the league, it was a mere blip on the radar screen in comparison to this latest spectacle. When the former University of Oregon star got busted in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport April 21 carrying “The Original Whizzinator,” a device marketed as a means of passing a drug urinalysis, in one of his suitcases, he became fodder for one hilarious sports page retort after another and abruptly sealed his own fate.

Also found in Smith’s luggage were packets of a white, powdery substance. This is where the story steps into bizzaro world. The substance turned out to be dried urine which was to be used in conjuction with the “Whizzinator.” The word embarrasing never held so much clout. To fully understand the asurdity of this device, even though the name alone goes a long way, you must first understand it’s anatomy. When I first got wind of the incident, all sorts of images came to mind- tubes snaking their way through pant legs, somehow pulling the proverbial wool over everyone’s eyes. The notion wasn’t particularly unsettling until, prompted by all this weirdness, I paid a visit to the “Whizzinator” website and found that it employs much more nauseating methods. Since there is no way, at least in this forum, to describe this thing without being prudent, I will spare the graphic details. The main thrust, if you will, of this device is a lifelike prosthetic penis from which clean urine is channeled. Apparently in some drug tests, substituting one’s urine with clean urine brought in from somewhere else, the old-fashioned foolproof way of cheating a drug test, is next to impossible because someone is likely to be watching closely over your shoulder. And therein lies the gimmick. The aforementioned prosthesis is unlikely to meet with much suspicion.

At any rate, Smith, 24, denied that the device was his, saying it was for his cousin, but it was already too late. Although NFL officials have not stated it on record, Smith’s suspension is clearly fallout from the April 21 incident. “He has been excused for the remainder of the offseason program and he will be gone indefinitely,” Vikings head coach Mike Tice told reporters. “I can’t really speak about any reasons why or when he’ll be back. It’s in the league’s hands.” According to reports, Smith was alerted of the one-year suspension after missing a league-administered drug test, which NFL guidelines state is essentially the same as failing one.

So now, the much maligned running back who climbed his way up from a fourth round draft pick in 2003, to seeing significant playing time and an increased role in the Viking’s offense last year, not to mention a legitimate chance to win the starting job from Michael Bennet this season, is left to contemplate his future. Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement Smith cannot be released solely for violating league policy. But you have to wonder whether things have been set into motion. The Vikings front office has taken the position that they have no intention of releasing Smith, who in two seasons has carried 231 times for 1,123 yards and seven touchdowns, caught 51 passes for 523 yards and two touchdowns, and returned 36 kickoffs for 743 yards. A steal to say the least, with numbers far outweighing his league minimum salary. Much like Randy Moss in 1998, Smith was touted by scouts as one of the best players in the draft, but labled as having off-the-field character issues (He was kicked off the University of Tennessee football team in 2000 for marijuana use) and was drafted far lower than expected. And just like Randy Moss, he was making his detractors look foolish. Until now.

In all fairness to Onterrio, he still has five days to appeal his suspension after it is officially handed down. After all, merely failing a couple of drug tests, getting caught with a plastic penis and bags of dried urine, and not showing for a drug test after his “Whizzinator” was comfiscated doesn’t make him guilty of anything. Except stupidity.