The NFL and MLB have both had players busted for performance-enhancing drugs. But the public outrage has always been much worse for baseball.
Why has the sporting public given pro football what amounts to a free pass on performance-enhancing drugs? I've listed some of my theories and I'd love to hear what you think is behind the disparate amount of criticism the two sports get.
1. The NFL has accrued more goodwill from its fans than MLB. The NFL usually puts the fans first (with the notable exception of the NFL Network) and provides a consistently outstanding product. Fans have a lot more bitterness toward Major League Baseball. Whenever it comes to a tough decision, MLB does the wrong thing. Bud Selig's actions during the rain-delayed Rays-Phillies World Series game and the extra-innings All-Star game jump to mind. And the late postseason start times show how little MLB cares about its younger fans.
Baseball's uneven salary structure also has to frustrate legions of fans. If you're already angry that the Yankees have a payroll over $200 million while your team hovers around $40 million, of course you're excited to see Alex Rodriguez nabbed for steroid use.
2. The NFL deals with violations directly and quickly. Thanks to the cooperation of the NFLPA, the NFL has never had to jump through hoops to test or punish players for performance-enhancing drugs. A player is caught, suspended and out of the news cycle in a matter of days.
Baseball's reputation in this area is severely damaged and the game may never regain the public's trust. The union has not helped matters over the last few years. By discouraging testing and punishment the union has helped keep the steroid issue in the news. In this case the strength of baseball's union has been a major detriment to the sport.
3. In the NFL, teams are more important than individuals. Although football has its stars, the lack of focus on individual players deflects some of the attention away from a steroid user.
The team is everything in football. The Patriots' decision to run out as one unit before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 set the modern standard for success. Teams like Pittsburgh that stick together are far more successful than a collection of stars like the Cowboys.
Baseball is much more of an individual sport. When it comes down to it, baseball is a contest between a hitter and a pitcher. That's why baseball players can be traded and make a huge impact the day they arrive in their new city, like Manny Ramirez in L.A. All they have to do is unpack, learn a few signs and they're good to go.
4. Football records are meaningless. No one really cares who had the most touchdown passes or rushing yards. The whole record book has been rewritten because of rule changes favoring the offense and the switch from 14 regular-season games to 16 games in 1978. If the NFL goes up to 18 games in the coming years, the record book will be rewritten once again. Baseball is a game of stats and the impact of steroids is terrible for everyone who cherished the sports' hallowed numbers.
5. The baseball media keeps the steroids story alive. Baseball writers say they don't like spending so much time on steroid news, but they have no choice if they want to get readers' attention. The baseball season is long and uneventful with only a handful of interesting angles. Steroids is one of the most reliable ways for reporters to make a splash. The NFL season is shorter with more hype, and much more of a chess match on the field. NFL writers don't focus on steroids because they don't have to.