With New York Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez recently given the longest non-gambling suspension in the history of Major League Baseball, performance enhancing drugs have, once again, become the talk of the sports world. Despite commissioner Bud Selig calling steroids a non-issue as long ago as 2009, it’s clear that the MLB still has work to do to clear the “PED” hurdle in its sport.
Meanwhile, the NFL has suspended players 54 times since 2008 for violating its substance abuse policy, and nobody seems to care.
For whatever reason, there’s a philosophical divide between those who are outraged by what has transpired in Major League Baseball and those who turn a blind eye towards the National Football League. And, in more than one instance, we’ve seen the same person holding both opinions.
America’s pastime (MLB) and its present time (NFL) are treated very differently, indeed.
At its core, baseball is a game that holds itself up based on the illusion of sanctity. In reality, scandal has rocked baseball at virtually every juncture throughout its history, which now spans three centuries. However, the one thing in baseball that we’ll always idealize are its records.
Statistics have their own gravitas in baseball because in a game that values tradition more than anything else, stats and records allow us to provide some sort of historical context. They allow us to compare and contrast players from different eras and to look at the game itself in a more linear fashion.
Sure, statistics have their own place in the NFL, but they take a comfortable backseat to the pure unadulterated violence we truly seek.
Basically, football is more of an outlet for our more barbaric impulses without risking being truly barbaric. We say to ourselves, “Yeah, sure we celebrate these freakish specimen who sacrifice their bodies for our satisfaction, but they’re rewarded handsomely for it, and they understand the risk, so it’s nowhere near as cruel as it really seems.”
And while that logic is technically accurate, if we’re giving these athletes the responsibility of “knowing what they’re getting themselves into”, we’re also giving them the authority to prepare their bodies accordingly. In some instances, to a player who thinks he needs an edge, that may mean using performance enhancing drugs.
Even in an era of football where we’ve seen safety become a priority with mounting evidence suggesting concussive hits can lead to traumatic brain injury, we still long for that violence. We don’t necessarily want our kids to play, but we hope others continue to carry the torch to satisfy those aforementioned impulses. We hope among all hopes that we can still find enough players who “understand the risks” and continue to play anyways.
However, we also understand that as players continue to get bigger, faster and stronger, there must be safeguards in place to try to limit some of the catastrophic injuries that have more enlightened men than myself questioning whether football exists at all–in its current machination–in 50 years. We assume those safeguards will come in the form of rule changes, but, like I said earlier, we’ve also given NFL players creative license to protect themselves.
So, if you’re an undersized player or one that can’t seem to overcome the effects of one of the many nagging injuries that pile up during an NFL career, you may consider taking performance enhancing drugs as a way to keep yourself in the league and to protect yourself against the Rob Gronkowski-esque physical freak shows of the world. And while we feign outrage at Brian Cushing or Shawne Merriman eating a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, we’re also sort of delighted to see the physical boundaries of the game being pushed.
That, in a 600-word nutshell, is why we seem to gloss over performance enhancing drugs in the NFL, while we disdain similar behavior in the MLB. It’s a sociological divide between two games that we love with entirely different values.
On one hand you have Major League Baseball, who desperately wants to create the illusion that all eras of the game were played on a relatively level playing field. And then you have the National Football League, who wants to constantly push the envelope of what is physically possible for our personal satisfaction.
It’s the definition of a guilty pleasure.