Steroids Debate: Why the NFL Is Worse Than MLB

Rob MaccarielloCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2008

Jose Canseco should just shut his mouth already.

In yet another round of allegations behind veiled threats of concrete evidence, Canseco calls out 2007 superstars Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez for using steroids at some point during their careers.

When asked to produce his sources on ABC's Nightline, Canseco said, "The timing's not right." Of course, A-Rod again had little to comment on the matter, other than to deny Canseco's allegations.

MLB Getting All the Wrong Attention

For Major League Baseball, negative attention regarding steroids from the media, as well as die-hard and casual fans alike, really came to the forefront after the record-breaking home run chase during the 1998 season. As baseballs flew out of the park off the bats of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, reports swirled that McGwire had been using creatine, as well as more illegal supplements like steroids.

With good reason, scrutiny over such a hallowed record like the single-season home run record was now in full swing. In no other sport can merely looking at the numbers give you a profile of the player. Every time a batter steps into the box, you see his average, home runs, and RBI without a doubt.

Having 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and 300 wins for a pitcher almost immediately indicate a Hall of Fame worthy career. We speak of 40-40 seasons as impressive, 30 plus home run-hitters as sluggers, and 20 win pitchers as dominant.

Records for more than 100 years now are still remembered by baseball, and exist to some extent in the modern era to be broken.

MLB is all about the numbers, but the steroids abuse epidemic should alarm sports fans in America's other favorite pastime.  

NFL: The Real Elephant in the Room

For all of the attention news networks, sportswriters, and the Senate have given to the steroids abuse in Major League Baseball, relatively NONE of that same scrutiny has been lent to the NFL.

Maybe it's because the NFL has a stricter substance-abuse policy or because MLB relies so much on the value of statistics for its history. For whatever reason, the unbalanced attention is more threatening to the integrity of the game of professional football than baseball.

Consider the case of Shawne Merriman. After a Pro-Bowl season in 2005-2006, Merriman received a league-imposed suspension of four weeks for testing positive for steroids. He finished the season with 17 sacks—tops in the league—despite only playing in 12 games.

He finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting behind Jason Taylor and Champ Bailey.

Are you surprised?

If you thought he should have won, then you need to keep reading this article. Hopefully, most of you have already seen the problem.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN CHEATED. He was caught. He was punished. The story ended. He plays two more seasons.

What is that all about?

A man was literally caught cheating to gain a competitive edge, which he clearly had by basically outplaying everyone else on the field in the entire league, was suspended four games for it, and is still considered one of the top players in the entire league today.

Barry Bonds, who has yet to concretely be proven as a cheater, has already been violently kicked into the abyss by Leonidas and the rest of America (San Francisco mostly excluded), while shouting "THIS....IS....CHEATING!!!" Merriman gets radio appearances, endorsements, and praise.

Why such a Jekyll and Hyde game with the media? Why don't people care more? Maybe the numbers are more important. But take a closer look at the two games themselves and steroids are far greater a threat to football than baseball. 

The Proof is in the Pounding

Prolific hitter Pete Rose once said, "See the ball, hit the ball." The fact of the matter is, many people can't "hit the ball" at the major league level.

Scientists remark about the wonders of human hand-eye coordination to be able to do the most complex of tasks. The challenge still remains that most of the 6 billion people on earth can't hit a 94 mph blur hurled toward them from only 60 feet, six inches away.

Andre Anselme, amateur sports historian, trivia guru, and history teacher at a high-powered New York City prep school, gave his unique perspective on the issue: You can be the strongest man in the world, take all the steroids you want, and still not be able to get the bat on the ball.

Steroids does not make you hit a baseball better.

What they do make you do—if you can manage to hit the ball in the first place—is hit it farther. Even this point is debated by experts.

For those who have the coordination, talent, and bat speed to hit the ball, steroids can allow for more muscle growth, faster repair after workouts/injuries, and probably the ability to go from warning-track power to home run hitter.

Yet the basic foundation for offense in baseball—hitting the ball—is not magically granted by juicing up.

Football, to a certain degree, does not rely on that natural talent.

By no means is this trivializing the difficulties and tremendous skill needed to play football. Ignore rocket-cannon arms like Peyton Manning or the shifty moves of Barry Sanders for a moment.

Line up a defensive lineman against an offensive lineman. Forget stunts, swim moves, combo blocking, and blitz packages. You (big, fat, strong lineman) against the other guy (big, fat, strong lineman). Who wins? The guy who wants it more? The man who is most prepared physically and mentally?

What about the player who is on steroids?

If Merriman could rush around the edge from a 3-4 defense faster than anybody else, wouldn't that make him more prolific of a sack-machine than other defensive players? Doping already has made good runners into Olympic Gold Medalists. Isn't it possible that the steroids gave Merriman something he didn't naturally have to be that good?

The fact is, it is possible. It's likely. The league knows this and PENALIZED him for it. Steroids give a faster leg up in football, more reliant on the gross motor skills of speed and strength than the precision of hitting and pitching found in baseball.

Gym [Lab] Rats

No matter what the sport, from water polo to Parchessi, steroids can help athletes recover faster from workouts and other injuries and get them back on the field, in the pool, or on the playing board. To this degree, baseball's focus on stopping professional, amateur, and children athletes from obtaining illegal steroids has been admirable.

However, the quickness with which we dismiss the same illegal violations in football is disturbing. This is especially alarming granted the advantages steroids provide in football over baseball.

Hopefully the same overhaul expected in MLB's polices for policing steroids use will make the situation "Lights Out" in the NFL.


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