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By the Book

by Archives February 7, 2007

While watching the Super Bowl, specifically number 99 in dark blue, and while watching CBS ads for the Pro Bowl which included a number 56 who usually wears dark blue, something struck me, as it has struck some but not many others.

How does the NFL get away with everything it does? Why is the NFL “America’s Game” and why can it do no wrong, while other leagues do similar things and get criticized for it?

Let me walk you through a couple of examples. It was reported two weeks ago that Major League Baseball was close to announcing that it will move its MLB Extra Innings package (which gives subscribers access to all games happening around the league, minus games in their “blackout zone”) exclusively to satellite provider DirecTV. Major League Baseball has been taking a heck of amount of flak for the decision, and there has been an outcry to block the move.

This is something that the NFL did a few years ago with its NFL Sunday Ticket. Did you know that? Probably not, because people don’t seem to look at the NFL’s decisions as bad ones. Ever. No matter what. (Except that whole NFL Network fiasco, but that was more because of a College bowl game, anyway.)

Let’s now move to another, more serious topic: steroids.

The U.S. Senate, the media and former players have embarrassed Major League Baseball. Records are marred, players are being suspected as users despite never failing a drug test, and people are being left out of the Hall of Fame for suspicion alone.

What happened earlier this year? San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, last year’s defensive player of the year, was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and was widely believed to be taking a performance-enhancing supplement unknowingly. He finished the season with 17 sacks in 12 games and was third in AFC Defensive Player of the Year voting, but he is still going to play in the Pro Bowl (the NFL’s All-Star game).

Now, I don’t want to get down on Merriman. It is believed that he failed the test in the pre-season, and stopped as soon as he heard about the positive test. The suspension became public later on. But, where is the criticism? If this happened in baseball, hockey, basketball or the Olympics, people would be thinking that everybody was doing it, and people would be calling out the league’s Drug Testing policy. But since this happened in the NFL, most of the media ignored this, and is acting like nothing has gone on. But what happens in 15 years when it comes to a Hall of Fame vote for Merriman who looks on his way to being a dominant defensive force. Does the media not vote for him, like they did with Mark McGwire this year? McGwire never failed a test, and was not voted in. Merriman was suspended for it. and I will say that if he continues his career on this path, he will be voted in the Hall of Fame.

Why does the NFL get a free pass? I recently finished reading a very well written book on the story of how the NFL grew from being a second-tier professional sport to over-taking baseball in the United States, and in a time when every sport’s ratings are going down, the NFL’s are steady. But why isn’t the media as harsh on the NFL as they are on baseball?

It boggles my mind. Why wasn’t Tank Johnson needing a judge to release him from a house-arrest so he could go to Miami to play in the Super Bowl a bigger story? Why aren’t the nine Cincinnati Bengals who were arrested this past season being vilified? What has football done to avoid this?

People think the NBA is full of thugs but, if I remember correctly, they haven’t had nine players arrested in the league this season, never mind nine players on a single team arrested. But the NBA is perceived that way, and the NFL is not.

I love the NFL as much as the next guy, and I watched the Super Bowl from start to finish, but it is still a sports league. Kids still look up to these players, and it is about time that the NFL starts taking responsibility for its players and its decisions.

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