CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis is not backing off his assertion that his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs was over a substance he has been taking for years without penalty, but he is backing off plans to retire after the 2018 season.
Davis, 35, who on Thursday spoke to media for the first time since he learned of the suspension in April, said he is “very open” to the possibility of playing in 2019.
This came after he said in January, “this will definitely be my last year coming up.”
“It’s important for me to come out each and every day and show that I’m still capable of playing,” Davis said as the Panthers completed a three-day minicamp. “I think when you look at the body of work over the OTA and minicamp process and period, I have proven without a doubt that I can still come out and play the game.
“I’m still out here running around, moving just as fast as any of our young guys. That is somewhat how I judge myself. When we bring new people in, rather see how I stack up against them.”
Davis signed a one-year extension last year in training camp that took him through the upcoming season. He said at the time that would be his last contract, and then reiterated that after the season in an interview with NFL.com.
But the suspension that actually will force Davis to miss five weeks of being around his teammates — because Carolina has a bye in Week 4 — apparently made the three-time Pro Bowl selection rethink retirement.
“It’s tough for me to potentially be in the last season of my NFL career, to be faced with a four-game suspension, but I’m just going to take it in stride, take advantage of the time I do have here with my teammates,” Davis said. “We are going to go to training camp. We are going to have a good camp and just looking forward to that.”
Davis’ only comments about the suspension prior to Thursday came in a video he released on social media after being notified by the league.
He spoke to reporters on Thursday while hosting Kyleigh Dean, a 13-year-old in the “Make-a-Wish” program. Kyleigh was diagnosed at an early age with a rare disease — congenital generalized lipodystrophy — that is characterized by the near total loss of body fat.
“It definitely puts things in perspective,” Davis said. “As professional athletes, I feel we have a responsibility to younger kids. It’s important for us to always do things the right way. That’s one of the things I try to instill into my kids personally.”
That led to how Davis, the 2014 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community work through his Defending Dreams Foundation, explains his suspension to kids that look up to him.
“I tell the truth,” Davis said. “I’m open and honest with kids about it. It definitely was something that was unintentional. It wasn’t something I was doing deliberately. Sometimes in life things happen that are totally out of your control. When you’re taking something that you’ve used for long, long periods of time, you don’t expect it to be any different results.
“Unfortunately, I had a different result the last time I used it than the other eight years I’ve used it.”
Davis said the illegal substance was the only PED he was using and he doesn’t use it anymore. He would not give the name of the substance because he is “good friends with the owner of the company.”
But Davis said he’s had several conversations with the manufacturer about what happened as he sought whether he could appeal the suspension. He ultimately came to the conclusion there was no sound basis for appeal.
“With the way the NFL drug testing policy is set up, you really don’t find out as a player until a month or two after you’ve actually failed a test,” Davis said. “It’s hard to go back and test that particular product that you’ve taken.
“I’m not saying it’s the league’s fault that I don’t know what product it was in. Ultimately, as I said in the video that I made, we’re responsible for what we put in our body as players. That’s something I have to know.”
Davis said the support from people such as Kyleigh, teammates, family members and the community of Charlotte has been “huge.”
“When you set a standard of always doing things the right way, people understand or know it wasn’t intentional,” Davis said. “That’s kind of the reaction I got from a local standpoint. I couldn’t be more excited to know people understand and believe in me.”
And Davis couldn’t have been more excited about hanging out with Kyleigh and showing her everything the defense does, including trash-talking with quarterback Cam Newton.
“I kind of laid the foundation early for Kyleigh when we came out here. … We talk trash to Cam all practice long,” said Davis, who talks more trash to the 2015 NFL MVP than anybody on the team. “He came up and tried to speak to her and she stuck to it.
“He asked, ‘Why are you so saucy?’ I absolutely loved that. That made my day.”