- Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider
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Soon after Alex Rodriguez had admitted his little three-year dalliance with steroids, a meager three years in which he averaged52 home runs per year, others wondered aloud why there is such a disparity. Why don't football players suffer such similar scrutiny. Why is A-Rod a rightful villain now, while Shawn Merriman is a forgotten issue? But that's simple.
Baseball players using PEDs to extend their performance are killing records and the chances of non-cheating players. Football players using PEDs to extend their performance are only killing themselves.
Two years ago, Andre Waters killed himself because football had destroyed his mind. Scientists discovered the brain of an 80-year old dementia patient locked in the skull of a 40-something. They continue to find similar results in other players.
"Doctors at Boston University's School of Medicine found a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brain of Tom McHale, an N.F.L. lineman from 1987 to 1995 who died in May at 45," we reported last week. "Known as C.T.E., the progressive condition results from repetitive head trauma and can bring on dementia in people in their 40s or 50s."
Repeated abuse that a player like Ted Johnson knows too well. Johnson can't count the number of concussions he suffered in the NFL. He only awaits a final verdict when the medical piper comes calling.
Our esteemed colleague Buster Olney asks, "It's worth taking a moment to note the incredible disparity between the response to performance-enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball and the response in the National Football League. Players like Shawne Merriman and Rodney Harrison were suspended for drug use and the issue went away, with fans and media quickly moving on. But when baseball players are named, the fallout goes on and on and on."
What Buster doesn't mention are the gruesome injuries both Merriman and Harrison have suffered in their careers. Merriman just lost a whole season (just his second in the NFL) because of a mangled knee. Just in the last few years, Harrison has torn his ACL, MCL and PCL, ripped up his shoulder, re-injured that right knee, and this year tore his right quadriceps femoris muscle on a play, was carted off the field, and placed on injured reserve.
When he was busted for HGH, Harrison was honest. He said he did it to heal, didn't want an edge, but only to get back on the field faster. After a four-game break, that's where he went.
The field. That's where guys don't go to their deaths, they just make death at 55 seem like a normality. It seems like every few weeks a former NFL player drops dead—lineman who stayed at 100 pounds over what he should weigh, and had their heart do the work of two men for years, or guys like Mike Webster, who keeled over at 52, and whose doctors noted had a career with the equivalent to 25,000 car accidents.
Olney wonders if not seeing a player's face has something to do with our dismissal of a football player's drug issues. He might be more right than he knows. But maybe he should consider dirt instead of a facemask as what ultimately hides the face.
Football has fewer hallowed records than baseball, but it also has a far worse survival rate and drug testing policies that tacitly acknowledge what a player must do to heal quickly and survive the battle. Alex Rodriguez might have altered his chance to have his face made into a bust, but we're not too worried that we won't see him in 10 or 20 years. He's 33. He has a long way to go.
Would you dare say the same of a football player still slogging away in the NFL at 33?
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PEDs in baseball mean broken records; in football, broken people.