Unconfirmed reports out of San Diego tell us a high-profile NFL player was forced to sit out Sunday’s action due to a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Sources say the player’s month-long suspension will likely have an enormous negative effect on his team’s playoff chances this season; however, they were unable to confirm the suspension due to a complete lack of outrage from the national media and the NFL’s collectively loyal fan base.
The question, then: If Shawne Merriman falls in the woods and no one wants to hear it — does he make a sound?
Ever since the first bottle of androstenedione was discovered in Mark McGwire’s locker during the great home run chase of 1998, Major League Baseball has (rightfully) been under siege from fans, media, historians and even Congress for allowing their sport to succumb to the evils of rampant steroid abuse. But when chemically enhanced NFL stars are busted for cheating with some of the very same drugs as the baseball players, we practically have to stifle our yawns.
Of course, baseball’s big problem is that the suspected steroid users are breaking of some of the sport’s most hallowed records, thereby calling into question the game’s credibility from a historical perspective. Having a couple of puffed-up cartoon characters take a sledgehammer to Roger Maris’ 61-home run season brightened the spotlight on the cheaters in baseball, and with Barry Bonds ready to hit No. 756 with a giant syringe, the outrage is predictable and justifiable.
But why must we wait for some freakish NFL test-tube creation to break the all-time touchdown record for us to be just as offended by a chemical assault on the integrity of football as well?
Sure, the NFL has been tougher on steroid cheats for a longer period of time than baseball, and the league’s four-game penalty (or a fourth of a season) for a first offense is not a mere slap on the wrist. In fact, it took more than 10 years for baseball to throw the current 50-game ban, which is more than a fourth of a team’s season, at guys like Guillermo Mota and Jason Grimsley. But that still
doesn’t explain why we look right past an NFL steroid suspension as if it were an extension of the injury report, while seething at those who would cheat America’s pastime.
Clearly we have become numb to steroid abuse in football. It no longer angers us because it no longer surprises us. One look at the bodies of today’s superstars tells us everything we need to know. We understand and accept that to survive and thrive in today’s NFL, many players simply have to juice up to keep up, so when one of them starts their cycle at the wrong time and gets popped during a random drug test, it’s not a big deal to us.
It should be.
When guys like Merriman, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, with 8.5 sacks in seven games so far this season, aren’t being busted for juicing, they’re leading their teams to the playoffs and beyond. I, for one, don’t want Super Bowl championships — and league history — being decided by which team’s super-freaks just happened to be on their off-cycle at testing time.