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Steroids in the NFL? No biggie!

May 12, 2010, 8:43 AM EDT

Brian Cushing.jpgHouston Texans linebacker and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing failed a performance-enhancing drug test last year. The offending substance: hGC, the female fertility drug that snagged Manny Ramirez last year.  Cushing tested positive back in September, but the news of all of this — and his suspension — is only hitting now.

Fellow Houston star Lance Berkman had some words to say about all of that yesterday:

I will say what will be interesting will be to see the reaction
because generally when that happens to a football player it is kind of
ho-hum. You write a story about it and he serves his four games and nobody
will ever say anything else about it. If that happens to a baseball
player, they want to strike him from the record book. It’s a totally
different reaction, and I’m not sure why that is, but I will be
following this just to see.

And it is a totally different reaction. Cushing is the third NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year to be suspended
for performance-enhancing substances in the last eight seasons, following Julius Peppers and Shawne Merriman.  The equivalent to this in baseball would be if Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez all tested positive for PEDs. If that had come to pass Congress would be involved, columnists would have their heart medication doubled and we would all be forced to think of the children under penalty of law.

In football? No big whoop.  No one wringing their hands over the NFL’s obvious PED problem. No one excoriating the league for having a testing and appeals procedure that allows for a five-month lag between the failed test and the appeal and another three month delay between the appeal and the decision, all of which allowed a known-PED user to play the games in which he won the Rookie of the Year award in the first place.

A Rookie of the Year award, it should be noted, that the writers just this afternoon decided
to allow Cushing to keep

despite the fact that he had tested positive for a banned substance
before the season started.  Why can he keep it?  According to multiple writers who voiced their views on it before the re-vote, it’s because other guys on PEDs have won the award in the past.

One of them — ESPN’s Adam Schefter — is basically serving as Cushing’s P.R. team.  He thinks that the fact that Cushing took a lie detector test and passed, he shouldn’t be suspended. This despite the facts that (a) lie detector tests are essentially useless; (b) this lie detector test was obviously set up by Cushing’s camp for P.R. purposes; and (c) unless the NFL itself is lying, Cushing lied during his lie detector test.

Schefter also suggests that maybe Cushing’s positive test was the result of flogging the bishop.  Can you imagine if, say, Peter Gammons offered the masturbation defense when Manny Ramirez tested positive?

Another ESPN guy — Mark Schelerth — thinks that Cushing shouldn’t lose his award because “we don’t know for certain” that he took a PED (note: really?). This despite the fact that the league has already completed its apparently exhaustive appeals process and suspended the guy.  “The banned substantces list is so long!” Schelerth basically says. “How is it possible that a player could know what he could or could not take!”  I mean, sure, Cushing went to USC so he probably has some sort of learning disability, but he makes a lot of money and can afford to hire someone to read the list for him.

Look, I’ve been called a PED apologist more times than I can count, but that’s because (a) I don’t think that guys who take PEDs should be demonized and shunned; and (b) I don’t think that attempting to re-write the record books is either possible or advisable. But I’ve never argued that the league shouldn’t suspend guys who test positive, and I’ve never trafficked in the world of apparently baseless excuses for what appears to be clear rules violations. This, however, appears to be par for the course among the NFL commentariat. Which is fine. Their sport, their problems, their opinions.

In light of them, however, I’d really prefer it if, next time baseball has a PED story, these people don’t come out of the woodwork talking about how awful baseball’s PED problems are.

  1. Joey B - May 12, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    “If that happens to a baseball player, they want to strike him from the record book.”
    I think Berkman answered his own question, and Craig’s as well. ‘Strike him from the record book.’ Most of the guys busted in the NFL are offensive lineman and defensive players. They have no recognizable records. Even QBs and RBs, who have real records, no one knows what they are. When I grew up, a lot of people knew exactly who was on the 500 list. Not only that, a fair amount could name them in order, and attach fairly accurate numbers to them. Everyone knew 714 and 61. I doubt more than half the FB fans out there know who the all-time QB TD leader is, or can come within 50 of his career total. BB is a sport of records, and when the records are stolen, people get annoyed.
    And, while we’re at it, FB players have been tested for a long time. BB players have fought testing tooth and nail. If they don’t like the negative publicity, then make it easier to out the cheaters.

  2. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 12, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    thinks that Cushing shouldn’t lose his award because “we don’t know for certain” that he took a PED.

    Just throwing this out there
    http://www.thedirty.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/cstrh23e8ggb.jpg (should be SFW)
    Also, I demand a “flogging the bishop” tag. Think you really dropped the ball there Craig :)

  3. Levi Stahl - May 12, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    Comparing the MLB Players’ Association’s fight against testing to football’s situation isn’t really appropriate unless you note that the NFL essentially doesn’t have a functional union anymore, the NFL having broken it following the failed strike long ago. (’87, maybe?) The NFL players can’t fight anything the way the MLB players can, because they have no power. Whatever you think about the moral question, the MLB Players’ Association, they understand how bargaining works: you never give anything away without getting something you need in return.
    (The ease with which the NFL defeated the union has always struck me as an indication of just how interchangeable NFL players are, for the most part, in a way that only the scrubbiest of scrubs in MLB are. Yet another reason that’s not my sport.)

  4. Levi stahl - May 12, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Comparing the MLB Players’ Association’s fight against testing to football’s situation isn’t really appropriate unless you note that the NFL essentially doesn’t have a functional union anymore, the NFL having broken it following the failed strike long ago. (’87, maybe?) The NFL players can’t fight anything the way the MLB players can, because they have no power. Whatever you think about the moral question, the MLB Players’ Association, they understand how bargaining works: you never give anything away without getting something you need in return.
    (The ease with which the NFL defeated the union has always struck me as an indication of just how interchangeable NFL players are, for the most part, in a way that only the scrubbiest of scrubs in MLB are. Yet another reason that’s not my sport.)

  5. Judi - May 12, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    Football commentators may not think steroids in the NFL are a big deal, but the fans absolutely do. Anytime Merriman’s name is brought up on any football messageboard the overwhelming reponses you’ll get are about steroids. Fans don’t forget, and we don’t buy stupid excuses. Schlereth and Schefter et al just make themselves sound extremely ignorant with their attempts at excuses.

  6. Chris - May 12, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    What makes you more angry? The person who is cheating and gets caught? Or the person you know is cheating but continually gets away with it?
    The anger at baseball comes from their refusal to accept steroid testing for all those years. Throw in the fact that during this period, one of baseball’s most hallowed records was broken by a steroid user, and there you go.
    But look now at baseball. The reaction to Manny’s failed test last year pales in comparison to those caught during the “legal steroid” era.

  7. BC - May 12, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    The suspension – I agree with it. The whole re-vote thing is a total joke though. Where do you draw the line? Should we go back and revote on some of Clemens’s Cy Young awards or Bonds’s MVP’s? It’s stupid. I hope Cushing “re-wins” his award.

  8. caland13 - May 12, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    Biggest problem with this is in the defense. Schlereth sayeth “the list is soooo long, how do we know?”…yet when it comes to the baseball players, people always suggest ‘they should know what they’re putting in their body.’ While I do agree with the latter, It is never excepted when a baseball player takes the stance of, “there wasnt anything on the label”, ala JC Romero.

  9. Steve - May 12, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    How many rushing yards does Emmitt Smith have? How many passing yards does Brett Favre have? How many sacks does Riggie White have? I don’t know the answer to any of this stuff but if you were to ask me how many home runs Hank Aaron, Willie mays or Babe Ruth accumulated over the course of their careers I could tell you in a second. That’s why there is such a difference in teh public’s reactions when a football player tests positive compared to a baseball player. I don’t think we’ll ever see a clean paleyr hit 74 home runs in a season and part of baseball’s magic is lost because of that. Watching Griffey or Howard hit 58 home runs going into the final game of the season and thinking, “well maybe there’s a chance, maybe we’ll see history today.” Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s possible that someday some prolific slugger will come along and slam 74 home runs but even if he does are we capable of looking at such a feat without at least a little suspicion? Some of the innocence has been taken away from teh sport because of the last 20 or so years. In my mind the heroes of the past have been cast aside because of the greed of a few. Most of the players whose numbers are tainted were already tremendous baseball players destined for Cooperstown anyway. I agree however that there is no fair way to strike these numbers from the record books I just think it’s a shame that numbers like 61 and 755 and even 500 don’t mean as much today as they did 15 years ago. And from someone who was only 11 when he watched in awe as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa fought to break Maris’ mark in 1998 I think that’s kind of a shame…

  10. Ed - May 12, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    Yep, there’s a double standard. Good for baseball, even if the denunciations of the users are at times over the top.
    In football’s “defense,” when so many of your players are caught up in allegations of murder and rape, steroid use is pretty small potatoes.

  11. Jonny5 - May 12, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    It’s image I guess. MLB is supposed to represent something pure in this country, where as football is a bunch of muscleheads stomping eachother.

  12. Joey B - May 12, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    “Comparing the MLB Players’ Association’s fight against testing to football’s situation isn’t really appropriate unless you note that the NFL essentially doesn’t have a functional union anymore, the NFL having broken it following the failed strike long ago.”
    I agree. But the reasons why one group gets tested and one doesn’t creates the issue of fairness. The public likely assumes that both sports use them to some degree. The difference is that they preceive that NFL will get tested, caught, and punished. They perceive that most MLB players will get away with it.
    If the players want to stonewall testing, they have the power to stop it. But it is unreasonable on Berkman’s part to think there is a double standard in the media coverage, while ignoring that there is a double standard in the testing.

  13. Craig Calcaterra - May 12, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    Except what you’re talking about is now over 6 years in the past. There has been PED testing with penalties since 2004. If you want to talk about serious penalties, fine, put it in 2008.
    Now, however, the leagues are on equal footing with their testing regimes. If people continue to have a perception to the contrary it’s because they are seriously misinformed.

  14. scatterbrian - May 12, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    “How is it possible that a player could know what he could or could not take!”
    This is amazing. In baseball you get “How is it possible that a player could NOT know what he could or could not take!”
    Captcha: waxy Press

  15. JBerardi - May 12, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    All you “everyone knew 61 and 714 and now the magic is lost and clean players can’t break these records and in my day everything was so much better” people can cry me a river. This guy has the right idea: http://www.theonion.com/articles/in-my-day-ballplayers-were-for-shit,10792/ (a decade old, but a true classic)

  16. Joey B - May 12, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    “Now, however, the leagues are on equal footing with their testing regimes. If people continue to have a perception to the contrary it’s because they are seriously misinformed.”
    You are correct. I mistaeknly assumed that the NFL tested for HGH. Lo Siente.

  17. JT - May 12, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    It’s silly to compare Brian Cushing to Evan Longoria. Yes, they were both ROY, but Longoria is a top 20 player in the game, and Cushing is nowhere near. Exaggerating your argument only decreases its credibility. How much press would be devoted to Geovany Soto or Chris Coghlan (two other, more comparable ROYs)? We kind of have an answer–Edinson Volquez didn’t exactly cause a major stink with his revelation.

  18. Jimbo - May 12, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    Baseball players are pussies in the first place. If they have to take steroids to play baseball, then those that take them are mega-pussies! Any sport where a bad hangnail can keep you from playing, should be abolished! Baseball’s a joke!

  19. Evan - May 12, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Craig,
    .
    You shouldn’t say that “you’ve been called” a steroid apologist. You are a steroid apologist because every article you’ve written involving steroids has you taking the side of roiders/juicers/cheaters.
    .
    The NFL clearly has a long way to go with steroids. Hell, they have a long way to go on a lot of issues. They are JUST getting around to protecting their players from concussion-related head injuries and they have some serious compensation issues on the horizon.
    .
    I think the scrutiny has a lot to do with the inherent differences in the sports, fans and history. Football fans aren’t nearly as obsessed with stats. Football fans also are more focused on team performance vs individual performance. Football teams also have a lot more turnover. Hell, I refuse to buy football jerseys because of this. Stats are an afterthought. Winning games, making the playoffs and going to the Super Bowl are all people care about.
    .
    In baseball, people get excited about a player reaching some non-descript milestone (100 wins, 1000 hits, etc). In football, people MAKE FUN OF YOU for going 18-1 (and setting all sorts of records) over the course of a season.
    .
    In a lot of ways, football is less about the sport and more about the show while baseball is more about the sport and less about the show.

  20. Loztralia - May 12, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    Evan, if the Yankees went 162-0 then lost the World Series I suspect people would make fun of them.

  21. Bob Tufts - May 12, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    Craig – you only skightly touched on the bigger story, which is the compliant press in the MFL (and NBA).
    Don’y you dare write critical articles on the NFL or else your access will be cut, you’ll be taken out of the buffet line and your Super Bowl credentials will seat you somewhere in Casa Grande for the Glendale based Super Bowl.
    At least baseball writers can take a few swings at the pinata that is Bud Selig. Don’t dare try it with Goodell, Inc. or Stern, LLC.

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