In Part I of the Colts fans’ discussion on steroid use in the NFL, I took a look at players who have either tested positive for steroid use (Shawne Merriman), have tested positive for substances banned under the NFL’s steroid policy, or are suspected of potentially using performance enhancing substances by fans around the league (Bob Sanders). Unfortunately, Part I by itself does not do a complete job of getting to what should be most important to football fans.
The most important part of this discussion is not the he said, she said situation surrounding all those suspected of using steroids, nor about placing blame, fault, or making accusations. What is important is that football fans take some real time to figure out how they really feel about the use of performance enhancers, specifically those banned substances like steroids, by the players who provide the entertainment and on-field product that make the NFL the most competitive, exciting, and watched sport in America.
Consider the following: You are a 5-foot 8-inch high school safety. You weigh 185-pounds. You are universally considered a freakish athlete, a monster performer on the field, and most likely the most intimidating defensive player in your state. There is nothing you enjoy in life more than playing football.
Imagine talking to your high school coaches, your college recruiters, and your college coaches at a legitimate NCAA Division I football program. You share with them your desire to play football for a living, your dream of winning the Super Bowl, that there is nothing in the world you would rather do.
Now consider your coaches’ response. “Wait a minute, do not get ahead of yourself. You are an amazing football player, possibly the best I have ever seen play your position, but you are very likely too small to play at the professional level. Sorry son, but you have not played against a single player to this point that is legitimately comparable to the athletic giants you would see in the NFL. You would have to be a freak of nature for a man your size to ever have a shot at even breaking into the NFL, let alone continuing your dominance at that level.”
If you were that player, what would you do? The size of the player is intentionally similar to Bob Sanders, not to suggest that these actual discussions took place, nor that Sanders is a sure-fire steroid user — now or historically. However, if you were in a position like a player similar to Sanders and you were told that the legitimacy of your professional football hopes at your size and weight are very slim, and you are told that the use of a steroid or other type of body, muscle, mass building supplement could give you enough of an edge to overcome those odds — what would you do?
If you are a player that is too “small” to make it, do you simply say, “oh well, my future could be playing the game I love and making millions of dollars but it looks like it is just not in the cards so I will have to look elsewhere.” If you put yourself in that position, the answer will probably only be difficult for those who are strictly opposed to the use of steroids in sports. For everyone else, it will be an easy… “umm, if the only reason I cannot do what I love to do, and make money — millions — doing it, is because my body will not be able to handle the stresses of the game naturally, I will do what I have to do. Sign me up.”
What if a player like Sanders did use steroids? Whether it was prior use or some form of recent use, how would that change his legacy? Should it change his legacy? How do Colts fans feel about Shawne Merriman following his positive steroids test? Did Colts fans, or fans around the league, feel differently about him? Should they?
I am one of Bob Sanders’ biggest fans. In my mind, he is one of the most special, exciting, and dominant football players of my lifetime. My Dad agrees that the Colts and the NFL have been missing something really special with Sanders on the sidelines dealing with persistent injury issues. My initial reaction to questions surrounding steroid use in sports is filled with jeers, with a black and white response that such things should not be allowed in professional sports. PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF THE GAME!!!!!!
There is one problem. If Bob Sanders is ever found to have used steroids, I will not view him, his impact on the Indianapolis Colts, or his career in even a marginally different light. How can this be?
Would I give Sanders a pass simply because he played for my favorite team? Would I give him a pass because of the story at the beginning of this article? Is it okay for Sanders to use steroids but not for players as large and dominant as Andre Johnson or Brian Urlacher to do so?
Making exceptions for smaller players seems unreasonable. Either using steroids in sports is okay, or it is not. Wait a minute, though, there seems like another potential line of demarcation.
What about different sports? To me, Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record is sickening. Understand that I never watched Hank Aaron play but I watched highlight videos of this regular guy going up to the plate and belting home runs at an alarming rate. I hear of the greatest home run hitter in history.
When I look at Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and other monster players who hit home runs regularly, it makes me sick to my stomach. Anyone who was alive and watching Major League Baseball early in Barry Bonds career, when he was with Bobby Bonilla on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early nineties, would notice that with the Giants in the latter portions of his career there was an alarming difference in his size and stature. Why does this matter?
In baseball, the physical demands are extremely different and lower than compared to the athletic demands of players on a football field. Does one need to be a skilled hitter to hit home runs, no matter how big or small he is? Absolutely. However, can a larger, stronger player with strong arms, a stronger core, with All-Star level hitting ability knock the ball out of the park at a supplemented rate? Absolutely.
Accordingly, to me, the use of steroids by baseball players, and specifically hitters who are chasing long-standing records, is an assault on the integrity of the game, the integrity of those records. Somehow, though, the argument for using the same substances in a sport like football, where the entertainment value and competition on the field are enhanced when players are bigger, faster, and stronger, seems different. Does that justify the use of these substances in football?
Ultimately, the opinions fans will have about the use of steroids and other banned performance enhancing drugs in professional football will be significantly varied. This story is not meant to suggest that steroid use is, or should be okay, nor to accuse any player in the league of using banned substances. This story hopes to encourage a real, meaningful discussions amongst NFL football fans about the use of such supplements to help players heal, perform, entertain, and advance competition on the football field.
How do you feel about steroid use in the NFL? Assume it exists, even if you are not convinced. How would the use of steroids change your perceptions or opinions about individual players? For the sake of making the discussion meaningful, assume a good percentage of the league’s most dominant players use some kind of performance enhancing substance that was banned, is banned, or will one day be banned. What impact does the use of steroids have on the game of football? Does it hurt the game’s integrity? If continuing use of steroids, or similar substances, would allow players like Shawne Merriman, or Bob Sanders (whether he used them or not), to stay on the football field, is that something fans want? Should they want it? Why and why not?
This discussion has to occur at some point folks. For some reason it is one of the most taboo issues in sports. It is something fans suspect, know about, think about, but — like religion and politics — they don’t want to talk about it at the table. Avoiding the issue will get fans, players, and the league no where. The issue will stick around until an ultimate call is made. This is the chance for fans to consider the issue and form their opinions. I hope many will participate.