(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstriped Bible)
The headlines during Super Bowl week have included two scandals involving performance enhancing drugs: one involving Ray Lewis and the other featuring Alex Rodriguez. Considering the proximity to football’s big game, Sports Illustrated’s report on Lewis’ alleged use of a banned substance was probably the most relevant story. However, the accusations leveled against Arod caused the biggest stir. Go figure.
Why was Alex Rodriguez in particular, and baseball in general, at the center of the week’s PED firestorm, when even more damning allegations were made about Lewis, who was preparing to play in the Super Bowl? The answer is simple. Baseball is subject to a double standard.
Despite having what most agree is the most comprehensive testing program in team sports, MLB is continually maligned because of its perceived steroid problem. Meanwhile, the public and media regularly look the other way when the same smoking guns go off in the NFL. The public’s indifference toward PED use in football seems even more incongruous when juxtaposed against the growing health epidemic in the NFL, but no one really seems to care about those potentially dangerous implications. Instead, the public has saved its righteous indignation for baseball. Apparently, the integrity of baseball players’ statistics is more important than football players’ lives.
The double standard to which baseball is held extends beyond the realm of performance enhancing drugs. Another example occurred on Wednesday, when 49’ers cornerback Chris Culliver made extremely inflammatory remarks about the existence of homosexual players in the NFL. Culliver didn’t mince words expressing this opinion either. “I don’t do that,” the cornerback stated. “No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do.”
Imagine if those words had been spoken by a baseball player? We don’t have to pretend. In September, baseball had its own brush with homophobia when Blue Jays’ short stop Yunel Escobar took the field wearing the Spanish slur “maricon” written on his eye black. The revelation caused a furor, with media outlets demanding discipline. Escobar eventually apologized for his mistake, but that didn’t stop the team from handing down a three-game suspension. What about Culliver? Although he eventually apologized, and the team quickly distanced itself from his remarks, there was no suspension and, if a fine was handed down, it wasn’t revealed publicly.
These two high profile examples demonstrate the higher standard to which baseball is held, but the issue is even more pervasive. Whether it’s the price of tickets, the late start times to postseason games, or competitive balance, baseball is often unjustly criticized, even when it compares favorably to other sports. This dynamic is the cause of frustration for many diehard baseball fans who feel their favorite sport is unfairly treated by the sports media and casual viewing public. However, rather than look upon the disproportionate amount of negativity heaped upon baseball as bad thing, those who love the game should view it as a positive. Perhaps baseball is judged more harshly because deep down we care about it more?
Football has soared in popularity by becoming our national vice, but baseball remains our national pastime. The combination of violence and gambling, which helps make the NFL so popular, is basically a modern day bread and circuses. However, baseball should never strive to appeal to the same lowest common denominator, nor should it want the public to similarly expect less from it. After all, baseball is more than entertainment; it is an embodiment of our history and a part of the national fabric. Baseball is America, and, although never perfect, like the nation itself, it should always strive to be. That’s why baseball deserves its double standard, and those who really love the game shouldn’t want it any other way.