Author: Joe Siegal
In dealing with the scourge of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), baseball and football have taken two completely different paths, showing that the philosophy of rooting out PEDs in American sports is incoherent.
When the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis was tied to the use of a banned substance the week leading up to the Super Bowl, Lewis downplayed the story. Days later, he was raising the Lombardi Trophy in the final game of his 17-year career. The story has since disappeared from the ESPN news cycle, and Lewis rides off into the sunset a champion and sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Lewis’ legacy will end up unharmed by this blip on the radar. Even when players are found guilty of PED use, which Lewis was not, the NFL slaps them on the wrist with a four-game suspension and fans seem to easily forget their transgressions.
It’s not the same in baseball, where the slightest hint of illicit steroid use tends to mar the career record of any player, regardless of their name recognition. By many accounts, PED use was and is still widespread in both sports, as less detectable drugs like human growth hormone and designer drugs are allegedly pervasive. Both leagues test for steroids, with MLB adding testing for human growth hormone in 2013. The NFL is trying to do the same before next season, so the problem is not in the testing regimen.
Still, a star baseball player being tied to PEDs sets off the media’s alarms and incites indignation, while football players more easily get a pass. This dissonance shows that we think differently about steroids in these two sports. The difference is not institutional, it’s cultural, and it doesn’t have to stay this way.
Football gets a pass because of its inherent physicality, and the use of PEDs and players’ efforts to bulk up are more easily tolerated and questioned less because of the nature of the game. With its players faster and stronger than ever, and with the current impetus on making the game safer, it’s in football’s best interests for the NFL, and for journalists covering it, to probe the extent of drug use with more sincerity.
In baseball, the sincerity in efforts to rid the game of PEDs should be coupled with more maturity. Because baseball is so protective of its history and records, journalists have neglected to acknowledge the efforts of the massive stars of the so-called “steroid era” by voting them into the Hall of Fame. This sets a dangerous precedent that is actually more disrespectful of the sport’s history than it is progressive.
Cheating has been a part of baseball forever. Corked bats, spitballs, vaseline and amphetamines were used before testosterone and HGH, and the stars who used the more primitive methods of cheating were never demonized like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez. As the so-called “thinking man’s game,” baseball looks down on steroid use with anger, as it compromises the ideals of the sport. This attitude, though it punishes cheaters, seems petty. Baseball needs to acknowledge the problem by fixing its future, not by rewriting its past.
Somewhere between the attitudes of the NFL and MLB there must be a middle ground. The solution for PEDs is not a witch hunt and historical whitewashing, nor is it an acceptance of the status quo.
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