NFL can't escape steroid spotlight forever

If an unknown, aging baseball reliever such as Jason Grimsley was taking human growth hormone, and if he's right when he says "boatloads" of baseball players are taking HGH, then how many mammoth NFL players must be taking all sorts of concoctions to get unnaturally fast and strong?

Superstar slugger Barry Bonds lives in a pressure cooker over allegations he injected himself with everything from cow steroids to Preparation H. (OK, maybe not that one.) Mediocre pitcher Jason Grimsley just had his house raided by federal agents, who, according to court records, tracked human growth hormone to his Arizona home.

It's almost impossible to say "baseball" and not include the word "steroids" in the same sentence.

But if you think it's limited to baseball, then you're crazy.

Someday, some professional football player is going to tick off some federal agent, who will do his homework, raid the player's house and find who knows what inside.

The NFL's secret will be out, and the game America loves more than baseball and apple pie combined will be changed forever.

The NFL has been mostly smugly silent as everyone from federal lawmakers to pontificating journalists have raked baseball over the coals for its seemingly rampant steroid problem.

But if you agree with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and believe the league's players are cleaner than Ivory soap - in 19 years of testing, there have been 111 positive tests - then you haven't been paying attention.

Fifteen years ago, about 40 NFL players weighed 300 or more pounds. Last season, some 350 tipped the scales at or above 300. Those 300-pounders of yesteryear generally were flabby. The 300-pounders of today often are solid muscle.

Yes, there have been tremendous advances in sports medicine and nutrition. But at the same time, there have been tremendous advances in cheating.

A "60 Minutes" report just before the Super Bowl detailed three Carolina Panthers players who, during their 2003 Super Bowl season, had filled steroid prescriptions with a South Carolina doctor. Those players never tested positive.

That should have been a giant alarm bell, but the NFL spinmeisters were able to sweep it under the rug without too much fuss.

That Grimsley, a 38-year-old, average reliever allegedly was using HGH should serve as an even louder alarm for the NFL.

If an end-of-the-road pitcher is taking that stuff - and if he's right when he says "boatloads" of major league players are taking HGH - then how many 340-pound linemen or 240-pound, fast-as-cats linebackers are using?

HGH is undetectable by urine tests, the preferred testing method of the NFL and most sports leagues. You'd have to be incredibly naïve to believe that scores of huge and speedy NFL players haven't dived head-long into that loophole.

I won't pretend to have any inside knowledge of what's going on in the Green Bay Packers' locker room, other than to say that your jaw drops when you see how big and fast these guys are. You marvel in the locker room at how little body fat a 300-pounder can have, and how fast a 240-pounder can be.

And then you compare today's players with the players you see on those NFL Films clips from the 1960s all the way into the 1980s. The game doesn't look the same; sort of like how those choppy black-and-white videos of Bob Cousy and Bill Russell bare no resemblance to the high-flying, long-shorts NBA of today.

Something's not right, and that the NFL can so smugly say that its house is in order makes me think the whole thing will collapse like a house of cards.

All it will take is one unpopular player chasing a hallowed record. All it will take is one ornery, mythically huge and fast player who has rubbed too many people the wrong way. In other words, all it will take is football's version of Bonds for the witch hunt to begin. And once the hunt is on, not even the best NFL spinmeister will be able to sweep the mess under the rug.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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