Why does nobody care about the steroid problem in the NFL?

Allen Barra of The Wall Street Journal wrote a fantastic article about the steroid problem in the NFL and why fans ignore it while they crucify baseball for the very same issue.

Mitchell ReportFirst, there’s the matter of statistics. The argument goes that baseball fans take stats very seriously and thus are spurred to action when performance-enhancing drugs taint the record books, while football fans are much less concerned about steroids and other such substances given that football has no identifiable statistical benchmarks such as Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs or Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Only a few players on a team of 22 starters in football really have any stats.

Prof. Yesalis believes the statistical argument to be largely a creation of the media: “I think it’s sportswriters who care about records being broken. I don’t think the average fans really care all that much. They view sports mostly as entertainment.” But Bob Costas disagrees. “I don’t know about the average fan, but judging from the reaction to Barry Bonds’s surpassing Aaron’s home run record, a great many fans do care, and if they don’t think the competition is legitimate, they’re liable to seek their entertainment elsewhere.”

Whether or not most fans care, the fact is that it’s only when players like Bonds achieve certain statistical milestones that the question of performance-enhancing drugs comes into focus; what statistics do we have for offensive linemen in football?

For that matter, who notices offensive or defensive linemen at all? While experts have long acknowledged that linemen (whose average weight has increased by nearly 90 pounds over the past quarter century) are the primary users of bulk-up substances, most fans never get to see the faces of the players down in the trenches. Defensive linemen might not even get their names mentioned more than once or twice a game when they make a spectacular play like a quarterback sack, and offensive linemen almost never get their names announced on TV.

Every baseball fan knew Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and other star players who testified in congressional hearings, but if even the best-known linemen were to sit in front of the microphone, their staunchest fans might be getting a good look at their faces for the first time.

Do yourself a favor and read the rest of the article, because it goes into how the NFL isn’t under the threat of losing its exemption from antitrust laws like MLB was.

Constantly hammering baseball because of its steroid problem, but giving football a free pass for the same issue might be the most hypocritical thing we fans do right now. And I’m as guilty as anyone. I have no problem chastising Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens because they (supposedly) doped, but when it comes to football, I’ll check my fantasy stats 34 times before I dare look into something even semi-steroid related. And I think that’s because I’m like any red-blooded American – I want to believe that my beloved weekend football is on the up and up when it comes to players using performance-enhancing drugs. But it clearly is not.

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