Every year, there’s a period of a couple months during which the promise of a new NFL season and the drama of a closing MLB season coincide. This year, especially in light of recent events in both leagues, I couldn’t help but notice some of the immensely different attitudes the sports viewing public hold with regard to baseball and football.
Perhaps the most striking contrast between our evaluations of the two sports lies in our judgment of cheating, moral standards, and steroid policy. Over the past decade or so, baseball has unwillingly managed to acquire an image of rampant steroid usage and a general sense of lost sportsmanship. The examples are endless.
Rafael Palmeiro, a longtime beloved first basemen for the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, was found with steroids in his system at the twilight of his career. The result? The slugger with over 3000 career hits and 500 home runs will most likely be left out of the Hall of Fame and remembered forever as a cheater and a liar.
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated a whole nation for an entire baseball season, trading home runs until each had shattered Roger Maris’ single-season home run record.
And then there’s Barry Bonds, the career all-star and new home run king whose life has undeniably been altered forever by the media and their steroid accusations.
This, of course, is in no way meant to be a long argument to free these players from guilt. But take a look at the contrast between the marred careers of these sluggers and the recent steroid story with NFL defensive star Shawne Merriman.
Merriman, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, tested positive for the steroid nandrolone. Atlanta Falcons guard Matt Lehr and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers also tested positive at the same time.
Merriman contends that the nandrolone was present in his system because he had been taking a supplement that he had thought to be safe. Regardless of the truth, if Merriman does not clear his name in the appeal process, he will face a four game suspension.
The suspension itself, albeit low, is not surprising. Rather, it’s the fact that on every sports talk show on the radio and on television, the Merriman story has found itself in the shadows of Kenny Rogers’ horrific Dirtgate scandal in which Rogers’ supposedly inexcusably used pine tar to grip a baseball in the cold for the whole of one half inning.
It isn’t just about Merriman or Rogers or even about the games at the professional level. This summer I was waiting at a metro station when a police officer approached me to make casual conversation. Although the conversation was slow to start due to the fact that I was still hung-over from the night before and a bit apprehensive to speak to a police officer, I soon learned that the officer had been a college football player at the University of Maryland. He talked nostalgically about how big he used to be and without any instigation on my part, he volunteered the information that he had been taking steroids in college. After all, “everyone was doing it.”
It was shocking to me that someone was giving a first hand account of the rampant usage of steroids in college football. And, judging by the grey hair on his head and his well-developed beer belly, this was almost 20 years ago.
It’s an irrefutable fact that sports is a multi-billion dollar industry in which millions of dollars are bid on the strongest, fastest, most talented athletes. And unfortunately, when the stakes are so high, athletes often claw for any advantage they can get. But somehow the American public has simply associated a higher level of scrutiny with the game of baseball than football. Perhaps it is because baseball is deemed our national pastime, a truly American game, and protecting the integrity of baseball is in some way equivalent to protecting the integrity of America. But it’s time for the double standards to stop, and for football, and every other sport, to live up to the same American standards of morality and ethics that we hold baseball to.