In this continuing era of steroids and supplements, whether the story is about Alex Rodriguez or Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds, it has become very easy to accuse almost any athlete of performance-enhancing drug use.
Last week, Mitch Ross and Christopher Key of Sports With Alternatives to Steroids (S.W.A.T.S.), brought a new batch of names under this dark cloud. It included Ray Lewis, Johnny Damon and Brett Favre, among others. But at his New Orleans press conference two days before Super Bowl XLVII, Ross tossed out a less prominent name: Steve Weatherford, the Giants punter.
Ross said Weatherford used "performance chips," which are tiny holographic patches worn on the skin at Chinese acupuncture points that supposedly help the body maintain and replenish its energy supply.
"I'd have to think the reason he used my name is because of my fitness level and how people view me as being a fitness freak," Weatherford says.
According to Weatherford, who threatened legal action for having his name dragged into the conversation, Ross has since apologized to him and said he will not mention the punter's name again.
Weatherford has been heralded in the past for what has been described as his "maniacal" workout routine. Around the time of last year's Super Bowl, Men's Fitness ran a story specifically on Weatherford's training regimen. He was also a track and field star at Illinois, finishing third in the heptathlon as a senior in the 2005 Big Ten Indoor Championships.
When Weatherford heard Ross mention his name, he was stunned.
"If you think about the people he named, they were Ray Lewis, a Hall of Famer, Brett Favre, a Hall of Famer, Terrell Owens, a Hall of Famer, and then he used my name," Weatherford says. "The only reason I think I deserve to be in that group is because I'm in really good shape."
Weatherford says he does not want the incident to be talked about any further. He says he has taken Ross' apology and does not want to "put fuel in the fire."
As Weatherford goes into his offseason workout mode, he has a bitter taste in his mouth. He feels his image was attacked with no evidence.
"It really bothered me because I work so hard to be a positive influence on people," he says. "The harder they work in life, the more they're able to achieve. That's something I really preach when I go speak to children, so that actually hurt my feelings and made me angry."
Weatherford is refocusing on his personal offseason workout routine. The Super Bowl XLVI champion has no time to waste if he wants to return to the big show.
Weatherford's 2013 offseason workout is divided into three parts. The first takes things slow:
"The first trimester will be lighter weights and explosive stuff to kind of get me back into good shape," he says. "I'm dealing with less machines than traditionally I use in the offseason. My workouts usually weren't geared toward machines, but this year I'm not using machines at all."
When the first third of Weatherford's offseason is over, he will start to crack down at the gym. As training camp nears, the maniacal side of Weatherford is unleashed.
"The second trimester will be a lot of really heavy lifting to build strength and explosion," he says. "The third will be a combination of both with a little bit more running to get my legs to where they have enough strength and stamina to be effective for 16 regular season games. That's what I found has been best for me because you can get as big and strong as you can possibly get, but if you're not able to sustain that for 25 weeks of the season, then it's all for nothing."
The anatomy of a football player has changed, and with that, the size of a punter. Although punters may be known for what they do with their feet, Weatherford insists it is important to be bulky, as well, in today's game.
"The punters nowadays are bigger than the linemen of the 1970s," he says. "The game has changed. The position has evolved. It's not the era of the kicker and the punter that can't make tackles and is not an athlete."
The importance of having an athletic punter was noticeable at last weekend's Super Bowl. Ravens punter Sam Koch executed one of the game's most critical plays in the fourth quarter when he roamed the end zone for an intentional safety. Koch slashed the game clock from 12 seconds to four seconds on the play. In the third quarter, Koch had a big hit to knock Ted Ginn Jr. out of bounds on a punt return.
Earlier in the game, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker attempted to run for a first down on a fake field goal. He was stopped a yard short, but Weatherford admires the Tucker's athleticism.
"He looked pretty fast," Weatherford says, "If he had another blocker, he would have gotten into the end zone. The game has changed since 20, 30, 40 years ago. The returners are obviously bigger, faster, stronger, but so are the punters."
While Weatherford engages in his offseason grind, he also is focusing on the non-football part of his life. The Crown Point, Indiana, native is especially vocal about his family and philanthropic time. He says he is busier now than he is at some points during the season.
"The offseason, right now, it's the time of year when I focus inward on myself and improving myself as a person, as a punter, as a father, as a philanthropist, as a leader and as a role model," he says. "It's time for me to be with my family and be a dad. Time for me to get out in the community and be a role model."
Last season, Weatherford celebrated his Super Bowl championship with a good will trip to Ghana. He helped build a school and a clean water well filtration system for a Ghanaian village.
He also brought 200 pairs of shoes and 200 New England Patriots Super Bowl Champions shirts to Ghana.
"The kids were walking around naked and barefoot on rocks, so that was an amazing experience," Weatherford says. "Even though those T-shirts were a waste, the kids didn't know any better and they loved it, so it was great to be able to help."
This offseason, Weatherford is keeping his focus in the tri-state New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area. He is working with individuals still struggling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and he also has a plan to spend time with children from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Teaming with the New York Yankees and Steiner Sports, Weatherford is planning a trip with some of the students to Yankee Stadium this spring.
"I think as far as finances are concerned, that area is not a place in need of people giving it money," he says. "To be able to reach them and help those children, it would be better to give them an experience and a fun day to take their mind off what they've been through."
Before baseball scene begins, Weatherford is fulfilled his sporting event needs with some of New York's other professional teams. He is frequently scene at basketball and hockey games in the city.
"I love New York," he says. "I love the fans, I love the people, I love the food. This is home. Going to those sporting events gives me a chance to get out in the community and meet the fans of this area. Rangers fans, Devil fans, Knicks fans and Nets fans are all football fans as well. Whether you're a Jets or Giants fans -- I played for the Jets. When Jets fans see me, they're happy to see me and obviously same for Giants fans. It gives me an opportunity to be in an intimate setting with them."
Weatherford could spend his offseason cooped away in his house, dodging fans and the media. Instead, he shows up in the most public of New York events and spends hours of his day maintaining his social media outlets on Twitter @weatherford5, Instagram @weatherford5 and Facebook.
"I love the fans, the season-ticket holders. I loved the kids," Weatherford says. "I have no problem missing ten minutes of a game with a group kids telling them how I got to where I am and what it takes to be a pro athlete and what it means to be a New York Giant."
Unfortunately in the current landscape of sports, that status also means dealing with the kind of accusations Mitch Ross and others are quick to make, even if, as Weatherford asserts, there is no basis behind the claim.