Media needs to be more careful with steroid talk

According to the AP, six to eight players are under investigation by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy by taking a weight-loss diuretic that could (could being the operative word here) be considered a masking agent for steroids.

Three of these players under investigation are Minnesota Viking defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, as well as Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jackson.

Granted, there’s no way of knowing at this point whether or not those players used the diuretic to cut weight or to mask the use of steroids, but given their size and stature (especially Jackson’s), it’s probably safe to assume that these athletes were trying to drop some pounds.

The media needs to be careful to not lump every NFL player who is found guilty of violating the league’s drug policy into the steroid category. The NFL even bans some cold medicines because of the ingredients in them and therefore, it’s not fair to suggest that every player caught has been cheating and taking steroids.

I only feel the need to mention this because one, the media has a tendency to over blow things and two, fans have a tendency to over blow things. Let’s wait until all the facts are released before labeling these players as cheaters.

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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.

Steroids in the NFL: Are we turning a deaf ear?

How can a problem be so publicized, so scrutinized and so downright shoved down our throats by the media get so much attention in one sport but not another?

It was the late Ken Caminiti who opened up a lot of people’s eyes in a 2002 Sports Illustrated cover story that steroid use in sports was perhaps a bigger issue than what most people thought.

It would be a vast understatement to say that since then, the media has run with the story.

Current major league players such as Barry Bonds and Jeremy Giambi along with former stars like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have come under rapid fire over the years about their involvement with performance enhancing drugs.

The players are criticized for using, commissioner Bud Selig is chastised for possibly being aware of the steroid use in his league and overall the sport is under a constant microscope by fans and analyst.

Back to the original question, though: how can one sport’s problems with performance enhancing drugs be brought to light by the media and fans, but not another?

In a recent blog written by C.W. Nevius on sfgate.com, Nevius wonders aloud if anybody really cares that the NFL might have just as big of a problem with steroids as the MLB does.

In the blog, he writes that since the NFL is a league that is basically adored by the public and crushes other programs in television ratings, that people are simply don’t care.

Nevius uses the newly uncovered facts released by The Charlotte Observer that several players of the ‘04 Carolina Panthers team used performance-enhancing drugs on several occasions that season, as a backdrop for his argument.

The Observer quotes Dr. Gary Wadler, a well-known expert on performance enhancing drugs, who prepared a report for the U.S. Attorney General’s office.

“Several of them were using disturbing, particularly alarmingly high amounts with high dosages for long durations — some in combinations,” Wadler said. “This wasn’t just a passing flirtation with these prohibited substances. When I see (prescriptions) `renewed five times,’ I say, `What are you trying to accomplish?’ ”

It certainly seems like it. Wadler’s report, based on the players’ medical records, showed that Steussie and another player picked up prescriptions for drugs just days before leaving for the 2004 Super Bowl. (The Panthers lost that game, 32-29 to New England.)

Dr. Wadler identified former Panthers’ Todd Steusie, Jeff Mitchell, Kevin Donnalley and Wesley Walls as players who were known to have taken steroids.

Those weren’t exactly practice squad members – every single one of those players contributed to Carolina going to the Super Bowl that season.

Let it be known that it wasn’t all of the Panthers players involved in the drug use, but the point is that the NFL is seemingly ducking a lot of scrutiny by use of smoke and mirrors.

By suspending a few players each season, the NFL is making the public believe that its drug testing is on the up and up. But are we to believe that the majority of the NFL is clean?

Nevius details in his blog that the average linebacker 20 years ago was 225 pounds. Now the average LB is upwards of 265 pounds and can still run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.

Now I love the NFL. To me, there is no more organized and classy league out there. Come Sunday’s in the fall, there is no better feeling than waking up to a full schedule of football games and nothing to do but sit back in watch.

But how can we as fans berate one league (going as far to say that Barry Bonds’ stats should have an asterisk by them in the record books), but simply turn away from another league when there is full documentation stating that players were using steroids during a Super Bowl run?

The 2004 Panthers are simply not discussed, while news reports and debates on national radio and TV stations bring up ‘riods in the MLB virtually every day.

Now, I don’t equate players using steroids to enhance their performance as say, someone who is handed all the answer to a test, but it is still wrong. It is still someone using an unfair advantage over the next guy.

It is still cheating – and we as fans should start paying attention to the rug that is being pulled over our eyes by the NFL.

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