All the fans, columnists and radio talk-show hosts are right. Steroid use taints every statistic in the book.
We don't know what the records really mean anymore. Because the league dragged its heels so long over steroid testing, there is a black cloud of suspicion over an entire generation of players. Because we can't know for sure who the guilty players are, we likewise can't know for sure who is completely innocent. That means every player and every accomplishment is suspect in the Steroid Era.
Thus, there is only one appropriate way to handle this. It's unfortunate, but to be fair to the great players who achieved their milestones honestly, we must paint with the broad brush the public demands. We must fill the record books with asterisks and close the Hall of Fame doors to everyone from the Steroid Era.
I'm talking, of course, about the NFL and its Steroid Era.
The NFL didn't begin testing for steroids until 1987, didn't suspend anyone until 1989 and didn't start year-round testing until 1990. New Orleans coach Jim Haslett recently estimated that when he played (1979-87) half of NFL players and all the linemen took steroids. Steve Courson, a part-time starter on Pittsburgh's 1979 championship team, admits he took steroids and Haslett charged that the Steelers' four Super Bowl championships were fueled by steroids.
So bust the Canton busts of the nine Hall of Fame Steelers from the Steroid Era. Granted, we don't know whether Terry Bradshaw, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham swallowed anything stronger than the Coca-Cola that kid handed Mean Joe in the commercial, but when it comes to steroids, the American public has made it very clear that you're guilty until proved innocent. And if one person points a vague finger, that's good enough.
Likewise, I don't have any knowledge that Eric Dickerson used steroids, but he set the single-season rushing record three years before the NFL started testing and more than half his career rushing total came before his first urine specimen. Put a big asterisk next to that record 2,105 and boot Dickerson out of the Hall of Fame.
True, there's no evidence that Walter Payton ingested any performance enhancer stronger than a bowl of Wheaties, but how can we know for sure? He played his entire career during the Steroid Era. That taints everything Payton did. And if Haslett's estimate about steroid use among linemen is even half right, that means Payton received blocks from players using performance enhancers. That's not a Hall of Fame performance, that's cheating. Toss Sweetness out of Canton, too.
Dan Marino holds the career marks for touchdown passes, yards passing and completions, but his absolute best seasons -- including his 48- and 44-touchdown years -- were during the Steroid Era. We're supposed to believe those marks were thanks to the Isotoner gloves he gave his receivers each Christmas? Please. It doesn't matter whether Marino never personally took steroids; if just one of his receivers or just one of his linemen did, the stats are bogus. Kick him out of the Hall.
How can we consider Lawrence Taylor the greatest linebacker ever when some of his best seasons came during the Steroid Era? We already know how many other drugs he put into his system, would steroids really be such a stretch?
Face it, any Hall of Famer who played a significant portion of his career in the Steroid Era is suspect and should be removed. Howie Long, Marcus Allen and James Lofton -- that means you. Dan Hampton, Earl Campbell and Jackie Slater -- hasta la vista, baby! Ronnie Lott, Randy White and Lee Roy Selmon -- get out of here, I mean it. Ozzie Newsome, Mike Singletary and Anthony Munoz -- don't let the turnstile hit you on the way out. Steve Largent, Dan Fouts and Tony Dorsett -- turn off all electronic devices and return your tray to its locked, upright position. John Riggins, Earl Campbell and Joe Montana -- the last chopper out of Canton is leaving and your names are on the flight manifest.
And let's not limit ourselves to individual players. We need to readjust our attitudes about the most celebrated teams of all time. The 1985 Bears? Can we absolutely say that everything in Chicago's Refrigerator came from the grocery store instead of the pharmacy? The 1986 Giants? Can we really believe that it was just Gatorade in that bucket? Heck, the 49ers' whole West Coast offense might have been fueled by premium instead of regular, if you know what I mean.
Once we make a clear, consistent statement about the NFL and the tainted records from its Steroid Era, perhaps then we'll finally be in a position to make some judgments about baseball's recent statistics. Once we apply the same standard to the players from the NFL's Steroid Era, we can talk about how recent major leaguers should be evaluated by baseball's Hall of Fame. But until then, I don't want to hear anyone complain that baseball performances have been tainted or that players should be banned from Cooperstown.
After all, if it never bothered you in one sport, why should it bother you in another?
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It can also be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.