I remain perplexed by the difficulty athletes have in following simple instructions. Some athletes are less than bright, of course, just as some people in other walks of life are less than bright, but they are usually the exceptions that prove the rule. In fact, athletes are usually better, as a whole, at following simple instructions than many other people. Their work life is all about being ordered around, running drills and following schedules. Football players — even those who are less than bright — learn complex playbooks every year.
So why, why, why can’t they read a simple label on a bottle of supplements? What gives? The NFL has gone so far as to work with a company that promises its supplements do not contain banned substances. So when Jarvis Jenkins walked into a GNC some months ago, all he had to do was look for a bottle that said “NSF.” How much easier could it be?
If the Redskins are any indication, apparently a lot easier. Washington has lost eight players to drug-related suspensions since the start of the 2011 season. Not all of those were PEDs, of course; some were for other drugs such as marijuana. It seems a little much to ask the NFL to affix every baggie sold in America with a label reading “If you are an NFL player, you will fail a drug test if you smoke this. If not, have a nice day!”
Jenkins’s supplement, by his own admission, contained a banned substance used by women fighting breast cancer, but also could serve as a masking agent for steroids. To his credit, Jenkins didn’t try to make excuses; he admits he was wrong to buy the supplement because he knew it was missing the crucial “NSF” designation. But that doesn’t help the depleted Redskins defense for the first four games of the season.
Later this week, we’ll likely learn the fallout from the Biogenesis scandal. There is a difference, albeit small, between a guy such as Jenkins buying the wrong bottle of supplements in a GNC and a guy such as Alex Rodriguez, with a long history of bad behavior and bad judgment, engaging in a long-term relationship with a company such as Biogenesis. The idea that Ryan Braun, Rodriguez and other players didn’t know they were doing anything wrong is laughable.
Rodriguez could face a particularly harsh penalty, given his previous admission that he used steroids before testing was in place. Baseball is abuzz with A-Rod’s possible punishments. Suspended for this season? For next season? For life? Of course, he’ll appeal whatever punishment he gets, especially a lifetime ban, unless the two sides reach a Braun-style agreement.
Braun has been suspended for the remainder of the season for his involvement. He will lose $3 million, which sounds like more than a slap on the wrist, until you realize he still has $130 remaining on his contract. And he’ll get every penny if he can manage to stay clean.
Because of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, contracts cannot be voided because of little things such as drug suspensions. Nor can awards be rescinded — or at least no one has come up with a way to do it. So Braun can cradle his 2011 National League MVP trophy as he watches the Brewers games from his couch.
Players also can’t be withheld from the Hall of Fame ballot. (Whether drug cheats will be elected to the Hall is still a matter of debate; several notable names were eligible this year and didn’t make it, but memories tend to be short, even among sportswriters.)
Fans are increasingly frustrated with these light penalties, and they have every right to be. It’s hard to feel like taking a family of four to the ballpark when you know that your money is going into the pocket of a drug cheat. It’s also hard for parents to explain to a child that his favorite player is sitting out because he broke the rules, or to plunk down $70 or more for a jersey that might end up in the rag bag because of a blown drug test.
The lack of stronger penalties for cheaters and the inability to cut loose players who commit gross breaches of the rules contribute to the powerlessness of fans. The leagues are trying to protect their images; the unions are trying to protect their players; the players are trying to protect their livelihoods. As for the fans — the people actually paying the bills — they’re left to wonder which of their heroes is taking what. And they don’t have labels to help.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.
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