John Smallwood | Enforcing itself


IT DOESN'T always make sense, but perception sometimes goes further than reality.

If you analyze it logically, the National Football League, a sport in which strength and

power can give one player a

considerable advantage over

another, would come under heavy scrutiny for illegal performance-enhancing drug use.

Yet even though a few players receive suspensions each season after getting popped on a drug test, the general perception from the sporting public is that the NFL has its steroid problem under control.

In fact, whenever the NFL boasts that it has the country's most comprehensive policy against the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs of any professional league, almost no one disagrees.

More telling is that few have questioned if that means it's

actually effective.

The other side is Major League Baseball.

These jokers have so little credibility in the steroid department that a lot of people believe they don't know how to hold the cup for a player to urinate in, much less develop a believable course of action.

Despite having fewer players test positive, and making serious strides in its testing policy,

Major League Baseball is still viewed by the public as lagging in addressing performance-

enhancing drugs.

That's more perception than actuality.

Again, if you think about it

logically, the NFL is probably the sport where steroid users would be up on the latest techniques for beating drug tests.

Because the financial benefits of cheating in the NFL are potentially so great, it stretches reality to believe that only a microscopic percentage of players are

getting some kind of chemical


But that's what the test results show.

The alarming number of

ex-NFL players who experience unusual health-related deaths at early ages and the number of

retired players who quickly change back from the Incredible Hulk into David Banner would seem to contradict those results.

Still, whether you actually

believe the NFL drug policy is as successful as claimed, it is hard to argue that the league does not at least give the impression that it takes the issue of illegal performance-enhancing drugs seriously.

On Wednesday, the NFL and the players union announced that 4 months of negotiations

led to an agreement for more

extensive testing for performance-enhancing drugs and

the addition of EPO, a blood-boosting substance, to the list

of banned substances.

The union agreed that players suspended after testing positive now will be subject to forfeiting a portion of their signing bonus in addition to the salary they lose while serving a performance-enhancing drug suspension.

That's putting your money where your mouth is, instead of just delivering lip service. That's credibility.

The money received from a signing bonus is usually the only portion of a player's salary that is guaranteed money.

A financial penalty like that might not stop a player from

dipping into the medicine

cabinet, but it's certainly going to make him think two or three times first.

"It is important that the NFL and its players continue to be leaders on the issue of illegal and dangerous performance-enhancing drugs in sports," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said about the new agreement.

Sure, it's self-congratulating backslapping, but Goodell comes across with a heck of a lot more credibility than when baseball commissioner Bud Selig talks about the strength of his league's policy.

One of the reasons is the NFL didn't put up such a weak position in front of Congress the way baseball did.

It's never good for your public confidence when the government threatens to put your house in order for you, since you can't seem to do it yourself.

Baseball, unlike football, created public gaffe after public gaffe on the steroid issue.

Unlike baseball players union boss Donald Fehr, NFL players union chief Gene Upshaw didn't make drug testing look as if it were just another bargaining chip in a contract negotiating - like free agency, arbitration and meal per diems.

NFL players, as a whole, didn't hide behind privacy rights as an argument against drug testing the way baseball players did.

The NFL took steps, even if some people consider them just cosmetic ones, to address the situation.

Baseball said it would take things under advisement.

As a result, the public has more trust that the NFL cares about illegal performance-enhancing drug use than baseball does.

Even after baseball finally did something, it's tougher policy is still looked at with skepticism.

The reality is that because the technology for catching cheaters is so many steps behind the new methods of cheating, the NFL's stricter policy isn't going to stop the use of illegal performance-

enhancing drugs.

But by creating these new tests and penalties, the NFL once again gives out the perception that it is indeed sincere about addressing the problem.

That's a point Major League Baseball just can't seem to get across. *

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