Hank Steinbrenner is at least a card, no matter what you may actually think of the Yankees. When not making ultimatums and caving to A-Rod or threatening head-rolling if his team’s inability to get Johan Santana costs it the playoffs, he’s saying that the NFL is sliding by on the whole steroid issue while baseball gets bad pub:
“A lot of baseball people thought that baseball would be the last sport that it would be a problem in and probably just ignored it too long,” Steinbrenner said. “But the fact is it’s been in football a long time and it’s been in basketball, I’m sure. Why baseball is being singled out, I don’t know. I don’t know. I know all the excuses — `Well, it’s America’s game and it’s the statistics.’
“That’s not an excuse. If a sport is riddled with it, it’s riddled with it. Why aren’t they looking at the NFL?” he said.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello basically refuted it with a very simple response, saying the league has been testing since 1990 and busts people with immediate suspensions (Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman and Pats safety Rodney Harrison both getting four games right off the bat for steroid and HGH use, respectively, being the most recent examples.) Steinbrenner has a point here — the NFL can basically do no wrong unless there is a wave of athlete misbehavior that would dwarf the Bengals — but football has had to deal with the steroid issue earlier, from Lyle Alzado to Bill Romanowski and countless others in between, and they haven’t gone about trying to obscure or ignore the behavior, so far as we know.
Athletes will game the system if they really want to get ahead that badly, but since football is not quite so stat-dependent in crucial areas like baseball, it’s less of a Big Concern and Crisis in the minds of the sportswriters who set the agenda. Also, there’s a lack of personification in football that’s paramount in baseball; something as simple as being able to see the faces of the competitors on the field somehow makes it more personal when a baseball player uses PEDs (although I can’t justify this theory personally.)
A better one is that save a few name skill players on every team, the NFL is such a cutthroat league for players without guaranteed contracts and obscured by everything team from helmets to shoes, that fans and the media develop the attraction to the team rather than the individual components. It’s hard to relate to 53 guys as opposed to the starting nine.
Still, it rings hollow when an MLB team’s front office starts carping about other sports, because the fallout from baseball was so public and ignored for so long that at this point, management needs to take the lumps for what happened while PEDs helped the sport escape from a vicious economic slump post-strike in 1994.