Steroids in the NFL, but no scandal
If this were baseball, there would be enough anguish and outrage to last a season. Had it happened during an Olympics, the world would be talking about it for years.
There’s nothing quite as juicy as a good steroid scandal ” unless, of course, it happens to take place in the NFL.
Then it’s just business as usual.
The news circulating around the league that six to eight players, including some star talent, are under investigation for using diuretics to mask steroid use largely has been met with a collective yawn by fans more interested in the status of Tony Romo’s pinky and Mike Singletary’s mouth.
Sure, there might be some concern over the possibility of the Saints’ Deuce McCallister being suspended for four games, but that’s pretty much limited to people who have him on their fantasy teams. And who has even heard of Houston long snapper Bryan Pittman, much less worried about whether he was trying to get an unfair edge on the tackle across the line from him?
It’s the NFL, after all. The assumption already is that everyone from Bill Belichick on down would cheat if they thought it would guarantee them a job or a win.
The fact is fans don’t seem to care if NFL players take steroids or simply assume the 300-pound behemoths who run like track stars already do. Unlike baseball, they accept it as a given that players will do whatever they must to get ahead in a violent sport where every Sunday could be their last game.
That’s why when Shawne Merriman tested positive for steroids two years ago the biggest roar came from fans welcoming him back from his suspension. The biggest controversy was whether he still should be considered for postseason awards.
When Rodney Harrison was suspended for admitting to obtaining human growth hormone, New England fans were only worried he might not come back soon enough to help the team win a Super Bowl.
Expect the same reaction out of Minnesota. Vikings fans already troubled by their team’s 3-4 start now must worry what will happen in the wake of a Fox Sports report that Pro Bowl defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are among those who have tested positive for a weight-loss diuretic banned by the NFL because it can be used to hide steroid use.
NFL tackles by nature are big guys, and the two Vikings are no different. Kevin Williams is listed at 311 pounds this season by the Vikings, while Pat Williams tips the scale at 317.
In the real world, both would be prime candidates for weight-loss drugs. But in the supersized NFL the object among linemen is usually to become bigger, not smaller. So if the reports turn out to be true, the natural assumption will be they were not trying to get rid of a few unsightly love handles by using the drugs.
Vikings fans might be angry if the linemen are suspended, but they’ll be more angry that the linemen got caught and perhaps cost the team a playoff berth, not that they might have been juiced in the first place.
Players caught doping invariably will say they took it unknowingly, apologize to everyone involved and then serve their suspensions. Others taking diuretics who haven’t been caught will switch to undetectable human growth hormone or hope their time to test doesn’t come up.
The cycle will repeat itself, just as it has since the NFL began testing for steroids in the late 1980s amid estimates that half the linemen in the league were using them. The testing has gotten better over the years, but so have the steroids and the methods used to evade positive tests that can damage both careers and bank accounts.
In the meantime, players have confounded nature by becoming bigger and bigger. Thirty years ago, only a handful of NFL players weighed over 300 pounds, while today nearly a third of players are that big.
Numbers don’t lie, but the most important number for the NFL is No. 1 ” as in the most popular sports league by far in the country. Entire teams could be busted for steroids and that dynamic wouldn’t change.
It won’t be long before the players currently under investigation have their due process and the NFL announces some suspensions. They’ll be duly noted in the media, and everyone will move on.
There might be steroids in the NFL, but one thing is for sure. There are no steroid scandals.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org