Ray Lewis, one of the NFL's most prominent players, was linked with performance-enhancing drug use in a Sports Illustrated article this week shortly before the Super Bowl, an article that also said some Alabama Crimson Tide members received PEDs from the same salesman in the case the night before the BCS championship game… and yet, the story hasn't stimulated a lot of wide-ranging discussion about PEDs in football with the Super Bowl later today. Lewis refused to address the issue in his media remarks, while there hasn't been much discussion at all of what went on with the Alabama players, and both stories have largely faded from the public mind. Meanwhile, a Miami New Times report linking Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera and other baseball stars to PEDs is still creating a massive stir. The differing reaction to the two stories has some, like CBS Sports' Matt Snyder, questioning if there's a double standard at play:
"The news relating to performance-enhancing drugs that broke Tuesday morning in two different sports served as yet another reminder that there's a double-standard. It's that baseball players are dirty, rotten, cheating scumbags if they are even mentioned in the same breath as PEDs. Football players? Ah, whatever. It's cool, man. Just keep those gladiators entertaining us.
Obviously, there will always be people who look down on use in any sport, but taking the reaction in totality, it's amazing how many more people get worked up about PEDs in baseball.
Tell me this: When it comes time to discuss whether or not Ray Lewis should be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, will there even be an argument? Will his candidacy be met with the same venom that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens faced from both voters and fans? Or what about Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza? I'd place a hefty wager on Lewis cruising into Canton and not facing near the scrutiny that, ultimately, kept every one of those baseball players above from being enshrined in Cooperstown. For this year, at least. And likely for a lot longer."
Snyder makes some solid points there. What's particularly interesting is the differing reactions to similar PED stories. Consider the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun, who challenged the 50-game suspension he received after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels in late 2011, and got the suspension overturned thanks largely to procedural errors in the testing process. Braun was still being taunted about the issue by fans in September 2012. Meanwhile in football, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman challenged a four-game PED suspension he received this fall and won on appeal thanks to irregularities in the testing process. Unlike Braun's, Sherman's drug suspension has been completely forgotten about by the public at large.
Another notable element is how the sports handle human growth hormone use. Both football and baseball have vowed to start testing for HGH, but MLB actually will implement blood testing for HGH this year, while the NFL is still arguing with its players about how to bring in HGH testing (and is being criticized by congressmen over the delay). Apart from a few media members like Dan Patrick who have consistently harped on HGH issues in the NFL, HGH still isn't a huge football story,. Meanwhile in baseball, the implementation of HGH testing is a huge change many are focusing on.
Of course, part of this may be the growing cross-sports sense of PED fatigue. Most of the football stories mentioned above are more recent than baseball ones, and there's been so much talk about PEDs lately (particularly with Lance Armstrong) that perhaps people are just sick of discussing them. Moreover, the SI story tying Lewis and the Alabama players to PEDs is an unusual one, especially considering that there are significant scientific questions about if the product they've been linked to (deer antler spray) could actually deliver the drug they're accused of using. It's far from overwhelming evidence that they've actually enhanced their performance. Still, it's notable that there's such a war going on over drug use in baseball, particularly as it concerns election to the Hall of Fame, but it's receiving very little attention in football. Perhaps that's a sign people are sick of PED stories, or perhaps it's just a sign that baseball and football players will always be judged differently.