I’ll admit, when the Sports Illustrated report regarding Ray Lewis’ alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs surfaced, my curiosity was instantly piqued. I wasn’t especially curious if the iconic middle linebacker actually used the illegal drugs in question. And I wasn’t even all that concerned with his comments following the allegations. What I really wanted to know was, what kind of outcry would this report instigate throughout sports world?
As it turned out (and as I suspected), it was no more than a blip for Lewis and the NFL, as Major League Baseball–once again–was thrust into the forefront of the PED scandal. Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun headed a list of players reportedly linked to HGH use and the story immediately took flight, offering the NFL another chance to sneak by virtually unscathed.
While Lewis admitted having contact with Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (the company responsible for producing the deer-antler supplements), he denied the use of deer-antler spray. He did, however, admit to the use of their holographic stickers designed to speed up the healing process—a treatment allowed by the NFL.
Lewis was pardoned of any further interrogations, serving just two days in the court of public opinion before winning the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. No further questions for Ray, despite the fact that at age 37, he was able to recover from an injury twice as fast as doctors originally estimated.
Despite the fact that Lewis returned from that season-threatening injury and played some of his best football of the year.
Despite the fact that in his 17th season in the NFL, Lewis unofficially led all postseason defenders with 51 tackles during the Ravens’ Super Bowl championship run.
Now this isn’t an indictment of Ray Lewis, or any other athlete for that matter. I don’t know if Lewis used deer-antler spray. I don’t even know if deer-antler spray has any redeeming qualities. This is about a double standard in sports. A distribution of blame that leaves one league exempt from public mockery—while forcing another to unintentionally “dive on the PED grenade.”
It started as a result of ballooned up baseball players destroying historic records at a torrid pace. Fans were happy to help the league to its economic height, as we spent a more than a decade filling stadiums and, in turn, the wallets of athletes and owners (sound familiar, NFL?). But when things finally got out of hand (around the time that lists started to emerge and fingers started being wagged at members of Congress) a generation of ball players was irrevocably labeled “cheats”, and the benchmark for career accolades was altered forever.
Individual performances in sports have become more important than ever before. With contract figures at an all-time high, and fantasy sports dominating the sports landscape, the individual athlete has become the focus. So is it coincidence that NFL production has started to mirror that of the MLB during the “Steroid Era”?
Think about this..the standard for running backs had been measured by the 1000-yard mark for decades. Now, the ONLY person impressed with that milestone is Rex Ryan, as he tries to convince people that Shonn Greene is worthy of a role as a featured back in the NFL.
Major League Baseball tricked its fans. The realization that 60 and 70-home run accomplishments were nothing more than a product of performance-altering chemicals caught many off-guard, and left many others feeling betrayed. That feeling of betrayal started a rebellion against “evil” baseball players, forcing many fans to walk away from the game altogether.
Now, I find myself questioning every accomplishment in sports. My metamorphosis from fan to cynic is peaking, as I struggle to fully accept these otherworldly achievements. I struggle to fully acknowledge legitimacy of Adrian Peterson’s near record-breaking season at one of the most physically demanding positions in sports…less than 12 months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament—and, to top it off, with a torn muscle in his abdomen. I struggle to accept that quarterbacks are just more athletic now than ever before. I struggle to accept that linebackers are bigger, stronger and faster, simply due to hard work and dedication.
After all, the NFL has seen its share of players suspended for illegal performance enhancing substances. Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace served a four-game suspension during the ’09 season for a failed drug test (lots of good that did), and Shawne Merriman has been linked to PED’s more than once—his most recent run-in as he was reportedly caught trying to smuggle steroids across the Canadian border. Merriman refuted the reports, and the story went away.
The prevalent excuse among NFL athletes attempting to dismiss a failed drug test is claiming Adderall use. The league witnessed it more than five times in 2012, including popular names like Richard Sherman, Joe Hayden and Brandon Browner.
The explanation seemed far-fetched the first time, and down right unbelievable each subsequent time it was used. Players offering an “I didn’t know” excuse for a drug that, realistically, has no business being in someone’s possession without a prescription. Nonetheless, Richard Sherman -like Ray Lewis- faced minimal scrutiny before returning to his place as one of the most highly-touted defensive players in the game.
Fans, media members and league employees have essentially turned a blind eye to PED’s in the NFL. In a sport where being bigger, stronger and faster, can (and does) have an affect on an opponents longterm health, it’s disconcerting that PED use has almost become accepted–or at the very least, overlooked.
The same group of people that spent more than a decade lauding super-human baseball stars for achievements that previously seemed improbable, appear unable (or unwilling) to learn from the past. Frustrated by the deception of one league, they’ve blackballed a generation of players from the Hall of Fame, while simultaneously glorifying another group guilty of the same wrongdoings.
Which begs the question: If PED’s don’t discriminate based on sport, why does our blame?