Another day, another news cycle full of drug stories in sports. It seems to never end. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard to surprise me anymore. It’s hard to surprise me regarding the lengths that athletes will go to get an advantage in sports. I don’t think it’s a jaded perspective to assume that everyone is looking for a way to cheat, lie, and go about their business without getting caught.
This isn’t strictly a sports issue, either. It happens everywhere in the world. It happens in the business world, in politics, everywhere. People look out (for the most part) for their own interests and are chiefly concerned with satisfying them, above all else. Why should sports be any different?
The difference is in the reactions, and the way fans treat athletes across the different sports.
The difference is in the double standards.
The double standard of the way we treat drug users in sports came to a head yesterday, with news of the suspensions of superstars in Major League Baseball and the National Football League. Wait, you forgot anyone was suspended in the NFL? Maybe that’s because the reaction to each suspension was completely different.
The announcement of Ryan Braun’s suspension from MLB drew applause from fans, media members and players. Braun’s suspension is being portrayed as a big win for all of the clean players in the game. Columns praise the fact that his reputation will suffer, and that he will finally be realized for the liar that he is.
Fans will boo him when he travels from park to park next year, and continue to treat him like Barry Bonds.
Forget the fact that this really doesn’t mean anything, at least for me, in terms of solving baseball’s drug problem. Let’s continue to celebrate the fact that Ryan Braun was caught in a lie. I can’t defend what he did, but that doesn’t mean I understand why his punishment is seen as a victory for the sport.
Braun will sit the rest of a meaningless season, while he recovers from injury, and return to the field next year having fully dealt with his slap on the wrist. Just like every player who has been suspended under baseball’s new “strict” drug policy, he will return and continue to go about his business.
In the case of Braun, the cries of “I KNEW IT” are overwhelming any reasonable take on what his suspension actually means, which in reality, is probably not very much. Fans and media love a good witch-hunt in Major League Baseball, and it seems that is what the Biogenesis case has turned into, more than anything else.
Meanwhile, news also broke yesterday that Denver Broncos star linebacker Von Miller faces a four game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for the second time in his career. Miller will appeal the suspension, but seems likely to serve the suspension based on reports.
Not including Miller, 13 NFL players have been suspended for part of the 2013-2014 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. 11 of the 13 suspensions are multiple game suspensions. Indianapolis’ Weslye Saunders will miss half the season.
What is the reaction to the suspensions in the NFL? For the most part, it appears to be about how teams deal with the losses, fill holes, and wait out the clock for the return of the sidelined players. Vegas lines will move and playoff chances will shift, but there is hardly a word about how the suspensions will effect the reputations of players.
There isn’t the same emotional reaction to suspensions in the NFL. Players aren’t accused of violating the “integrity” of the game, or “cheating” others out of a fair shake.
Maybe it’s because there is some level of expectation for football players to break the rules. This offseason, stories of arrests and suspensions have dominated the headlines. Although there aren’t the same rallying cries to clean up the sport and publicly shame those causing the problems.
Per capita, are NFL players getting arrested more than other professions? Not necessarily. So why are some so quick to accept suspensions and move on, talking about the on-field ramifications rather than the off-field legacies that may be forever tainted?
Maybe the NFL is simply a violent sport, without the romanticism that some still foolishly attach to MLB. Maybe it’s because there isn’t the same misguided sentimental storylines.
Whatever the reason, I don’t think it will change anytime soon. And surely, another NFL player will be suspended in the near future, and we’ll simply look down the depth chart to see who is up next for whatever team is suffering a loss.
But heaven forbid a player in MLB fail a similar drug test, and risk the reputation of a sport that has embraced more of its fair share of wife-beaters, alcoholics, drug addicts and cheaters. Hey – it’s America’s Game. Wouldn’t want to let a drug test get in the way of that.