With Sen. George Mitchell releasing his report Thursday on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, there seems to be a double standard when it comes to the NFL. Major League Baseball is constantly criticized, and rightly so, for being soft on the illegal use of steroids, but what does the NFL really do about the problem?
The Hall of Fame careers of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have forever been tainted, but when NFL star players are busted, like Patriots safety Rodney Harrison and San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman; they serve their four-game suspension for illegally using performance-enhancing drugs and then the matter is quickly forgotten with no questions asked of the adequacy of the drug testing.
The Mitchell report listed 88 past and present baseball players alleged to have used some kind of performance-enhancing drug, but where's the list of names of football players? There are only a handful of NFL players caught in the last few years involved with performance-enhancing drugs, but not close to the list of baseball players. The outcry in football just isn't there. The public perception of the NFL is a league that's tough on drug use. Just ask Dolphins running back Ricky Williams who is constantly kicked out of the league for smoking his doobies.
There is no taint to Merriman's career, because after serving his four-game drug suspension last season, he still made the Pro Bowl at the end of the year. Harrison was welcomed back to the Patriots starting lineup with open arms following the 35-year-old's four-game suspension earlier this season.
According to an Associated Press article published in August 2006, the NFL's drug-testing program is ineffective. In the article, Dr. Gary Wadler, an internist and author who specializes in drugs in sports, said medical records showed several Carolina Panthers players were prescribed steroids and HGH in 2003; including guard Kevin Donnalley, center Jeff Mitchell, tackle Todd Steussie, tight end Wesley Walls, punter Todd Sauerbrun, and practice squad player Louis Williams. This was during the team's Super Bowl season and at the time; no player was suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
The Associated Press also reported last August that quarterback Tim Couch had "regimens that called for the use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone" while he attempted a comeback into the league after a three-year hiatus. In the report, there were documentations outlining Couch's extensive use of drugs banned by the NFL. Couch, the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL draft, told Yahoo! Sports he briefly took HGH in the hope the drug would help him recover from shoulder surgery. He denied using steroids or any other banned drugs and said he never had seen the documents.
Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks Coach Wade Wilson also busted for receiving the same HGH drug that Harrison obtained for three years when he was a coach of the Chicago Bears.
It seems to only way players and coaches are nabbed for HGH is because the NFL does not test for HGH, but every player is randomly tested at least once a year for steroids. Harrison never tested positive for HGH, he was busted because a paper trail led federal investigators to Harrison's purchase of HGH. Couch had a similar paper trail, but no positive test.
Just this September following Harrison's suspension, Mike Reis of the Boston Globe reported that NFL officials said they are "aggressively" researching and developing a test for HGH. The NFL has funded a $500,000 grant to Don Catlin's newly formed Anti-Doping Research Institute in Los Angeles, and has funded other studies addressing testing and detection. The NFL added HGH to its list of banned substances in 1991 with the intention to protect the "integrity" of the game by ensuring that players couldn't gain an illegal advantage.
The NFL conducts urine tests to detect steroids, but there is no accepted urine test for HGH. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league isn't ready to blood-test for HGH because some experts say testing is unreliable. Goodell also stated repeatedly that the issue comes down to testing. "There is no test for HGH. We are investing to develop a test," Goodell told ESPN in September. "There is no such thing in the world right now. In the meantime, we will educate our players and we will work with law enforcement."
The NFL currently tests for anabolic steroids; growth hormones; diuretics and other masking agents; ephedrine and other selected stimulants; dietary "supplements" containing prohibited substances; various other substances.
All players are tested at least once a year, usually during the preseason. Tests are conducted weekly during the preseason, regular season and postseason, plus periodically in the off-season with players selected on a computer coded or "blind" basis.
The penalty policy is four-game suspension with a first positive test, six-game suspension for a second positive test and a minimum one-year suspension for a third positive test.
The more you look at the NFL's drug testing, the more questions are raised. If you can't detect HGH, how do you know it's not being used by players? Where is the dark cloud over the NFL, like there was over baseball the last ten years? If Merriman, who Goodell said tested clean on 19 of 20 random tests for performance-enhancing drugs since entering the league, completes a Hall of Fame career, will he be remembered and shamed for using performing-enhancing drugs like Bonds and Clemens in baseball?
To Harrison's credit, he did admit to using HGH. You can place him in the category of Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi, who admitted to using steroids to a Federal Grand Jury in 2003. They may be cheaters, just don't call them liars.
However, much like Bonds told a Federal Grand Jury that the steroids he used he thought was flack-seed oil and had no clue what he was putting in his body, Merriman, after testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone, said the positive test was the accidental result of a tainted nutritional supplement. Flack-seed oil, tainted nutritional supplement, whatever!
One of the earliest NFL players to come clean with his steroid use was former All-Pro player Lyle Alzado back in the early '90s. He was one of the fiercest defensive ends to play in the NFL in the 1970s and '80s with the Broncos and Raiders. He finished a stellar career with nearly 1,000 tackles and 112½ sacks. Alzado was selected to two Pro Bowls (1977, '78); was selected first team All Pro twice (1977 and 1980); was selected to second team All Pro in 1978; was selected to the All-AFC team five times (1974, '77, '78, '80, '82); was AFC Player of the Year in 1977; and was a member of the 1983 Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Raiders..
After retiring in 1990, Alzado admitted to using anabolic steroids which sullied those sensational career achievements. In the years leading to his death at age 43 of a brain tumor, Alzado said his abuse of steroids caused his fatal illness. Only time will tell, when all these bloated, drug-enhanced bodies break down, which players are telling the truth about their drug use.
Other former NFL players to admit the use of steroids include former Steelers offensive lineman, the late Steve Courson, who admitted he used steroids while playing for Pittsburgh in the 1970s and early '80s, as did at least four other guys. Former Saints coach Jim Haslett, a player in Buffalo from 1979 to 1985, has said the old Steelers dynasty essentially ran on steroids. Haslett said he took steroids during his playing career.
Defensive end Julius Peppers of Carolina, safety Lee Flowers of Denver and wide receiver David Boston of Miami were among players suspended over the last two years for violation of the NFL policy concerning steroids and "related substances."
In 2003, four Raiders, none of whom remains with the team, tested positive for the designer steroid THG, which, according to the players' lawyer, was supplied by BALCO's Victor Conte. THG initially had been unknown to the NFL, but the positive tests occurred after the league retested 1,700 urine samples. One player was Chris Cooper, who is now a defensive end with the Cardinals; the other three were, Bill Romanowski, Dana Stubblefield and Barret Robbins, all who are no longer in the NFL.
Bonds and Clemens are now considered to be the poster children of the "Steroid Era" in baseball. Merriman, Harrison and the rest are really no different in football's HGH Era.