If a Steroid Scandal Breaks and No One Cares, Does It Make a Sound?
> 8/30/2006 1:06:02 PM

In February 2004, the NFL's Carolina Panthers, something of an upstart as only a 9-year-old franchise, appeared in their second Super Bowl, eventually succumbing to the New England Patriots. This event marked something of a revival for the franchise who in their short time in the league had already gone from NFC power to 1-15 doormat.

There is now however, rather indisputable evidence that several of the players involved in reaching that height of heights in professional football were in fact in violation of the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy. This week an extensive and damning report published in the Charlotte Observer painted a portrait of a team, and perhaps a league, awash in steroid abuse. Amazingly, despite what many would consider overwhelming evidence, there has been a distinct paucity of uproar. Some might even call the silence deafening.

In many ways, this most recent story is simply a continuation of a drama that has unfolded over the course of nearly half a decade. Information first began to surface in the Spring of 2005 that several players for the Carolina Panthers' organization had been linked to a doctor accused of writing prescriptions for steroids. Those
initially fingered were punter Todd Sauerbrun and offensive linemen Todd Steussie and Jeff Mitchell. HBO Sports later linked four more players to the indicted doctor, James Shortt.

The Charlotte Observer's piece merely fills in the gory details on a story that had been on slow simmer for well over a year. And the details are certainly pretty gory. There was hair loss, shriveled testicles and anti-estrogen drugs to stop breast growth. But what there hasn't been, in the wake of this disclosure, is much of any public outcry. Sure there are some sports writers talking about it: Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says its time to revoke the NFL's free pass, C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle wonders if the size of Carolina's media market has anything to do with it and Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star sees players as victims of a corrupt system that needs fixing.

In the general public though, the resounding comment has been no comment at all, and as next week's Thursday night kick-off rapidly approaches, there is only an increased chance that this story will (conveniently for the marketing machine that is the NFL) disappear forever. The truly frightening element at this point is that this particular investigation has remained particularly small in scope, and beyond that, many of the players implicated have latched on with new teams who seem completely fine with the huge steroid anchor hanging squarely around their necks. Punter Todd Sauerbrun has even received a four game suspension this year for testing positive for the banned substance ephedra. He called the positive test a case of "bad timing and bad decision making."

What this behavior, similar to the other former Panthers' persistent use of HGH and other supplements, points to is a league beset with a mentality of win-at-all costs. The NFL thrives on size and speed, violence and aggression. Steroids and other banned substances have been shown to increase the career lengths of aging stars as well as give borderline players that extra step that may catapult them to a multi-million dollar deal. Perhaps the most disturbing piece of information to come out of the Observer's report is that after Steussie, a veteran tackle and at one time one of the most dominant at his position, began to require anti-estrogen treatments to fight back the breast growth that was accompanying his steroid use, he didn't think to himself, "Wow, I better quit these drugs." Instead he went to Dr. Shortt and asked for whatever was necessary to let him keep taking his steroids without drawing suspicion.

Those who are asking questions want to know, "Where to from here?" The disgrace of it all is that the NFL has always hung its hat on the fact that its drug testing policy was the best in all of professional sports. The very same Congressional panel that publicly undressed Major League Baseball over their achingly obvious steroid problem lauded praise on NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and others for their steadfast approach to the problem. Clearly this was a farce, as we can only assume the NFL's entire approach to drug testing has been. We all know that HGH has never been tested for, as no test has ever been approved by the league, but these Panther players were using upwards of four and five banned substances before the single most important game of the NFL season.

As with the awfulness swirling around baseball the past two seasons, the real losers are the fans who really don't know how to feel. In watching the NFL, many folks probably have the attitude that stepping onto the field without taking steroids is a stupid idea. We can only hope that ideal does not predominate. We know what these drugs can do to the human body over the long term. Heck, Steussie and his teammates found that out the hard way.

The NFL has the responsibility as a league (and one granted anti-trust exemption by Congress) to clean up the game and present a united front against steroid and drug abuse to youths across the U.S. In 2005, according to the Monitoring the Future survey, lifetime prevalence of steroid use by 12th graders hit its lowest point since 1996 (two years before McGwire and Sosa made Roger Maris inconsequential). 2005 steroid use by 12th graders also marked a third straight year of decrease from a high of 4% in 2002, the same year that Ken Caminiti admitted steroid use during his MVP season to Sports Illustrated.

So much progress has been made over these last few years, and to turn a blind eye to that would be to aquiesce to the perceived need to use these drugs for football players to compete at a professional level. We don't want to, nor can millions of high school and college athletes afford, to go down that road again. So let's make sure we keep talking about steroids, and that this time our voices are heard.


This is a question I posed on my site the other day. Where is the outrage? And did Paul Tagliabue lie to Congress about the efficacy of drug testing in the NFL? In addtion, did major league baseball make that lie more palatable because Selig and his henchmen looked like such boobs in their hearing while Tagliabue had a much slicker presentation?But then again, it is obviously more important to talk endlessly of the schoolyard dustup between Terrell Owens and Bill Parcells or Matt Leinert's impending fatherhood. What a joke.
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Posted by: Gary Garland 9/1/2006 12:19:56 PM

Gary,Taking the second part of your comment first, the obvious answer to me is that there are so many interested parties whose fortunes rest on the continued financial success of the league and its over-sized players, that discussing the actual issues at hand is the last thing that these folks want to do. ESPN, love 'em or hate 'em, sets the agenda for what gets discussed in regards to sports. The Network's success is now almost impossible to separate from the league (MNF, Madden, fantasy football not to even mention any of their actual coverage). Sadly, the world-wide leader is such a force, they also dictate the national sports dialogue. So if they choose to let the issue slide, you better believe it's going to slide. They do throw us a bone with Outside the Lines, but in my mind, that's an issue of much too little and never nearly often enough.I think your initial question is even more titalating. There seems to be a very distinct possibility that Tagliabue and his henchmen did in fact perjure themselves. There are a couple different options: A) the league's testing is the best possible, the players and their trainers are just that much further ahead, B) the league knows its testing is subpar, but can't openly admit as much and has tried to upgrade, or the always nefarious C) the league knows that it's testing is a joke, actively disguisses that fact, and implicitly supports players rampant substance abuse by failing to act.Because I'm an optimist and love the game, I hold on to B as the real answer, although this whole mess leads me to believe that it probably falls somewhere closer to C. If he was lying, Tagliabue makes a pretty persuasive case. It will however, come down to a question of sustainability, as any future Corey Stringer type of events will inevitably lead to a public backlash especially in light of these recent developments. One of these days, football's Bonds will emerge, or maybe the NFL's Canseco, and questions will be answered. Sadly, that will probably only mean that more questions will be raised.
Posted by: Jon Schnaars 9/5/2006 10:51:13 AM

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