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Why do we turn a blind eye to steroid use among NFL players?

John Moorehouse • Apr 16, 2007 at 10:21 AM

Right now, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is receiving praise from all corners for his hard-line approach to misbehaving players like Pacman Jones and Chris Henry.

It's hard not to salute Goodell for getting tough with players who spend time off the field on a rap sheet - and for holding teams accountable for their contracted athletes' misconduct.

Meanwhile, the NFL and those who cover it continue to ignore the elephant in the room: steroids.

Even though one of the NFL's elite players tested positive this past year, it's an issue that continues to fly under the radar.

The transgressor in this case is San Diego star linebacker Shawne Merriman, who served a four-game suspension last season for using the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

As the 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl honoree, Merriman is an elite performer in his sport by any reasonable definition. And there is concrete proof that he was using a banned substance to enhance his performance.

If an athlete of his caliber tested positive in Major League Baseball, they'd be holding hearings on Capitol Hill faster than you can say "John McCain." But the NFL just went on its merry way in the wake of Merriman's transgression.

A baseball star is suspected of steroid use and is shunned and his legacy tarnished, as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds have experienced. Yet a football star tests positive, and he is honored; Merriman was voted to another Pro Bowl and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year balloting.

And anyone who thinks Merriman is one of the few NFL players using steroids is kidding themselves. If a Pro Bowl player like him is willing to cross that line, what will an undrafted free agent do? Or a practice squad player trying to secure a roster spot? Factor in the shortened life span of an NFL career, and the temptation can be even greater.

The fact of the matter is, when an NFL player gets caught with his hand in the anabolic cookie jar, we care less. Why?

Perhaps it's because the appeal of the NFL transcends simple sport. For many, it's about big, strong, fast men knocking the snot out of each other for 60 minutes every Sunday.

NFL players aren't athletes. They're gladiators. You've got mercenary competitors, encased in armor, engaged in violence. It's just like the good ol' days of ancient Rome, except now they throw T-shirts into the crowd instead of loaves of bread.

There's no doubt that the misdeeds of guys like Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson could do horrendous damage to the NFL - in the short term.

But we all know about the damage steroids can do to a person's health over the long term. And we're well aware of the physical price many NFL players pay after years in the game. How will those problems be magnified by anabolic steroids and human growth hormone?

I guess we'll have to wait to find out.

Maybe if football players start dropping dead like former major league infielder Ken Caminiti, who took steroids and abused other drugs, people will start paying attention.

But by then, it probably will be too late.

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