Friday, December 22, 2006

Roid Rage, if by "rage" you mean "whatever"

Let me see if I understand exactly how this works…..Major League Baseball , and those who cover it, were up in arms over allegations about steroid use. After a few names were revealed as having failed tests for banned substances, the proverbial poop hit the fan, and the topic dominated the airwaves, web, etc. Rafael Palmeiro, the biggest confirmed user so far, has not played an inning since the news came out, and his career is likely over, his accomplishments and possible his Hall of Fame candidacy clouded in doubt. The debate rages on now that alleged roider Mark McGwire is on the latest Hall of Fame ballot. We won’t even go into the coverage and controversy surrounding eventual Home Run King Barry Bonds. Congress, congress, called the big boys in for a public hearing last spring, and warned the sport to clean up its act or else. Commissioner Bud Selig implemented new levels of punishment for anyone caught, as public opinion swelled in favor enough that the mighty players union had no choice but to cave. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but suffice it to say the sport is running scared and attempting to keep itself clean.

Compare this to the National Football League, which seems to somehow operate inside its own bubble. A star player, Sand Diego’s Shawne Merriman, tested positive earlier this year for a banned substance, which turned out to be a steroid. The NFL responded in kind, suspending the star four games, which amounts to one quarter of a season (comparable to a 50 gamer from MLB). A stiff penalty, no doubt, but what struck me was the muted, “so what?” reaction from the press. Here was a star player on one of the leagues better teams, nailed for steroids! It would compare to say, Roy Oswalt getting nabbed in baseball. The reaction there would have been a huge outcry, with writers clamoring that his stats be flagged with an asterisk, etc. Why the double standard? Should we just assume that football players are juicing unless we know otherwise, or is that already the public perception? The impact on the Chargers was immediately obvious, as they underwent some rough weeks on the defensive side of the ball, seemingly falling way behind each game and hoping the electric offense could bail them out, which it did on several occasions. Since Merriman’s return a few weeks back, the defense has stepped up and once again become a dominant force, and San Diego has emerged as one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

Look, I know that in almost every case, the cheaters are always one or two steps ahead of the testers, and the odds are pretty good that a good portion of players in both sports are not completely above board. At the very least, players who are caught should be penalized for their stupidity alone. It just is mind boggling to me how the public perceives the same infractions in each sport.
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