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STERIODS: Contrasting the NFL & MLB

This time last year, Hank Steinbrenner came out and stated that he didn’t “like baseball being singled out” when it came to the attention by media and congress over the steroids issue.  He later commented, “Everybody that knows sports knows football is tailor-made for performance-enhancing drugs.  I don’t know how they managed to skate by.  It irritates me.  Don’t tell me it’s not more prevalent.  The number in football is at least twice as many.  Look at the speed and size of those players.”

In the wake of A-Rod’s admittance of steroid use between 2001 and 2003, I do think it’s interesting to contrast why there seems to be a double standard between performance enhancing drugs in baseball and football.

A-Rod Admits His Guilt

A-Rod Admits His Guilt

I do think it is amazing that guys like Shawne Merriman and Rodney Harrison–two prominent defensive players in the NFL–can test positive for steroids/HGH and no one truly seem to care.  Do football fans not care about the integrity of the game?  Do fans and maybe even the media enable these players because they want to see brutal collisions on the field?

I do think, though, that there are a few differences between baseball and football in regards to this issue.  Harrison, and to some degree, Shawne Merriman, admitted that they were wrong.  They were willing to accept their penalties.  That doesn’t make what they did okay, but these players and others did not break NFL policy and continue to lie about it time after time.  They didn’t play the “he said, she said” game.

That’s not to say that some of the players in the MLB should admit guilt if they aren’t guilty.  But, at least in the court of public opinion, they all certainly aren’t innocent.  Barry Bonds?  Palmeiro?  Clemens? Maguire?  Sosa?   There is this “hush, hush” mentality among these big name players, and yet damning evidence mounts against them that would appear to seriously cloud their credibility.  With A-Rod stating that he did indeed take performance-enhancing drugs–after a 2007 interview with Katie Couric where he flatly denied this claim–an entire era of baseball has an enormous blemish on it.

Another distinct difference between baseball and football in regards to steroids is the actual benefit.  It is known that steroids can give you a boost in strength, muscle, and speed.  HGH, a substance that Rodney Harrison was found to be taking this time last year, is widely believed to aid in the recovery of injury.  When Harrison apparently took the drug, he was attempting to recover much quicker from an injury than he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.  Again, this doesn’t justify his actions.

Harrison Tested Positive

Harrison Tested Positive

But at the same time, we as fans cannot begin to fathom the wear and tear on one’s body that playing in the NFL induces.  There are former players that have a hard time going about their day due to massive injuries.  ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth, a former offensive lineman, has admitted to having at least twenty knee surgeries.  And some former players even suffer from dementia due to the brutal sport of football.

Another issue is the impact steroids has on the game of baseball and football.  Baseball is much less of a team sport than football.  Essentially, baseball is a pitcher versus a batter.  If the pitcher is taking steroids which in turn allows him to throw the ball with a bit more velocity, that is an advantage.  If the batter is utilizing steroids to allow him to hit the ball further, that could potentially turn a double play into a home-run.  That is, most certainly, an advantage.

These factors decide games.

Can games really be decided by steroids in football, though?  Does steroids help you read a defense better?  Does steroids allow you to make every single tackle on the field?  Does steroids give you the drive to study film, decipher signals, or enhance your vision to see the hole?

Football is a team sport.  If one person–or for that matter, a few players–are using steroids on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, I am not convinced that that is an advantage.  It may make you a bit stronger.  It may make you a bit faster.  But, unlike baseball, I don’t think those benefits can make you and your team better.  I’ve seen guys come into the NFL who are complete physical specimens (Former number 1 overall pick in 2000, DE Courtney Brown, springs to mind), and yet could barely crack the starting lineup.

Looks Like Tarzan, Plays Like Jane

Courtney Brown: Looks Like Tarzan, Plays Like Jane

Guys who are the strongest and fastest and yet their careers never take off due to injury, an inability to pick up the playbook, or a complete lack of heart.

Remember, you need the physical tools and talent in the NFL, but football is most certainly a mental game.  Akili Smith and Michael Vick could throw the ball out of the stadium and into oncoming traffic on the highway, yet they were both mediocre quarterbacks.

Smith Didnt Work Out for the Bengals

Smith Didn't Work Out for the Bengals

I am not saying that players cannot and do not benefit from steroids in the NFL.  In 2006, when Merriman was suspended four games for steroids, he still racked up 17 sacks in 12 games.  That is an incredible stat.  At the same time, in 2007, in just 15 games, Merriman still registered 12.5 sacks.  That is a very good total, still.  And while steroids may have contributed to Merriman being able to get around the corner and sack Peyton Manning a couple extra times, steroids absolutely cannot aid you if you bite on Manning’s play fake and he throws it over the top to Reggie Wayne for a touchdown.

Lastly, it cannot be forgotten that baseball is a numbers game.  Home runs, batting averages and bases stolen–it’s what baseball fans care about, from age 8 to 80.

Quick, name me how many yards Emmitt Smith gained in his career?  How many touchdowns did Jerry Rice retire with?  How many sacks did Reggie White have?  How many consecutive games has Brett Favre played?

Even the most die-hard NFL fan would be hard pressed to answer those questions.

Yes, baseball is about the numbers, and if a player is on steroids and has a chance to balloon his numbers into the stratosphere, that is something that the common baseball fan can’t stand.  No one wants someone to eclipse Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth without knowing they did it the old natural way.

February 9, 2009 - Posted by | Features & Opinions, NFL | , , , , , , , , ,

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