September is a time of crisp autumn air, baseball playoff races and the beginning of football season. But after the public relations disaster that was Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and the Biogenesis steroid scandal, is anyone still invested in the 2013 Major League Baseball season?
The Sept. 5 opening night matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos brought in more than 25 million television viewers. The NFL re-established its grip on the top prime-time ratings spot, but amid the excitement, one player was missing.
Denver’s best pass rusher, Von Miller, will be on the sidelines for the first six games of the season, because he violated the league’s substance abuse policy. Miller is not the only one spending September on the bench, as 20 NFL players were also suspended during the offseason for violating either substance abuse or performance-enhancing drug policies.
The NBA is all over the sports world, especially after its final game of the 2012–13 season brought in more than 30 million viewers. However, the league is lagging behind in its drug policy. NBA players are tested at four random points during the season. If the final test comes before the season’s end, then players are free to go on a performance-enhancing drug shopping spree until their seasons are done.
Braun was suspended for the rest of the MLB season after he finally confessed to using steroids during his 2011 MVP season. Rodriguez, despite his pesky attempts to appeal his suspension, is still facing a 211-game ban. Yet the NFL and NBA hand out much lighter penalties for similar offenses. The standard suspension enforced this season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for drug violations was four games, while an NBA offender can expect a 10-game suspension. Each of these punishments are equivalent to a slap on the wrist.
So what gives with this disparity in punishments? It may have to do with players’ legacies. Baseball, more than any other sport, is indebted to its record books. When a cheater messes with that treasured history of the game, many baseball purists take it as a personal assault.
But the difference may also be because of image. Professional baseball is still reeling from the steroid scandals of Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and the Mitchell Report, while the NFL and NBA have been fortunate to avoid having their elite superstars caught using performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s time to stop being naive. If baseball players are still able to get their hands on illegal substances, even after numerous headhunting missions by MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the federal government, then what’s stopping football and basketball stars from doing the same?
It seems to me that the NFL and NBA are turning a blind eye toward drug use simply because the leagues’ business is booming. It’s no different than when writers and fans were dazzled by mammoth home runs in the late 1990s Steroid Era and forgot to ask questions.
If I were Selig, I might have some advice for Goodell and incoming NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: Nip this in the bud, while you still can.