Late last week, New England Patriots ' safety Rodney Harrison was suspended for the first four games of the 2007 NFL regular season for admitting to using a banned substance, namely human growth hormone (HGH). Harrison, however, vehemently denied ever haven taken steroids. Add him to the list of other Pro Bowlers who have been suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs; right next to San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, who were each suspended for four games almost halfway through the 2006 season for steroid use. Merriman was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2005-2006 and was voted in as a starter in 2006-2007 despite playing in just 12 games due to his suspension. His success and popularity begs the question: Why is there a double standard when it comes to steroids in professional sports?
The fact that Merriman was voted into the Pro Bowl by fans after testing positive for steroids shows that many football fans don't seems to care that he took steroids. But mention the name Barry Bonds to a baseball fan, and most would scoff and make the claim that Hank Aaron is still the true home-run champ, or that Bonds' record should receive an asterisk. In contrast to Merriman, Bonds has never actually tested positive for steroids. His personal trainer, Greg Anderson, is in prison for distribution of steroids and there are multiple other signs, but nothing has actually been proven. Regardless, fans are much quicker to vilify Bonds rather than Merriman: he comes off as brash and may have unnaturally broken the most hallowed baseball record of all time.
Rafael Palmeiro is by far the biggest name baseball player to ever actually test positive for steroid use, and the 10-game mandatory suspension he received was nothing compared to the damage to his reputation. Now it's a question of whether his 569 home runs will be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame, which was a sure-fire lock before the suspension. Merriman may receive similar treatment five years after he retires, but it just seems like many fans are more willing to brush aside steroid use from football players than they are from baseball players.
Even Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who, like Bonds, have never tested positive for steroids, have seen their credibility damaged. It seems as though the ominous thundercloud of suspicion that has been hovering over baseball for years gives fans of the sport tunnel-vision when it comes to steroids.
Maybe the NFL will never have a steroid problem comparable to baseball's, but that doesn't mean that devotees shouldn't care when NFL players test positive for steroids or any other performance enhancing drug. Harshly judging baseball players, many only on suspicion, is a ridiculous concept if football players aren't treated the same way. Despite the multitude of differences between the sports, the rules when it comes to cheating will always remain the same.