This summer, the most shocking, sensational and jaw-dropping story in sports went unnoticed. It had every aspect of a classic mafia movie: drugs, wired informants, even murder. Sports Illustrated writer Phil Taylor wrote that it was a story straight out of a “Martin Scorsese movie.” Sounds like an intriguing lead, but no one seemed to care. But you should care, and so should the NFL.
Playing the role of the snitch in this saga is not Al Pacino, but New England Patriots’ right tackle Nick Kaczur. An important starter in the Patriots 2006 AFC championship run, Kaczur was arrested in April for illegal possession of the prescription painkiller OxyContin. In June, the Boston Globe reported that Kaczur cooperated with federal authorities in an undercover sting operation against alleged drug dealer Daniel Eskala. According to an anonymous federal agent, Kaczur wore a wire during three drug transactions. Kaczur has denied involvement with any sting operation, but Eskala is currently on trial for three counts of possession and intent to distribute OxyContin.
In another June incident, convicted steroids dealer David Jacobs and his girlfriend were found dead from bullet wounds in their Texas home. Just weeks before his death, Jacobs had supplied NFL investigators with a list of NFL players who had bought steroids from him, along with e-mails, checks, and other evidence that supported his claims. Jacobs explained his cooperation with investigators by saying he had made it his personal mission to “clean up the sport.” Like in any good Sopranos episode, our first reaction is someone “took care of him.” But police have yet to find any evidence of a hit and now believe it was a murder-suicide.
Both these horrifying and movie-like stories point to a disturbing drug culture in the NFL, yet the media and most Americans have somehow completely ignored these stories. Instead, the back pages of summer newspapers were filled with stories of A-Rod learning kabbalah from Madonna (and it turns out she was nothing more than a friend). I understand people are as tired as I am about steroids stories. The Mitchell Report supplied enough drama to tire out the Energizer bunny, but does that mean the NFL gets a free pass?
Barry Bonds sits at home hoping his agent can beg a team into giving him a contract. Mark McGwire sits by the phone every January hoping he will get a call from Cooperstown that he has been rightfully enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens sits in a courtroom hoping to clear his name when he has only been found guilty by the court of public opinion. Sprinter Marion Jones just finished her time in a California prion after she was stripped of her five gold medals. While none of these world-class athletes have ever tested positive for performing enhancing drugs, they each sit humiliated, villainized or imprisoned.
At the same time, two-time Super Bowl champion and Patriots’ safety Rodney Harrison soon after admitting to HGH use, and San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman made the Pro Bowl the same year he tested positive for steroids. After nearly being forced into the witness protection program, Kaczur went to training camp like nothing had happened and was named New England’s starting right tackle against the Chiefs in a week one win. The Patriots called it an “internal issue,” which translated, means Kaczur will face no discipline. Furthermore, the list of NFL players who bought steroids from Jacobs has not been and most likely never will be released.
Football will never have the same media scrutiny as baseball, and this is partially because records and statistics are much more revered in baseball. The NFL makes a dozen rule changes every offseason, which makes it impossible to compare John Elway to Johnny Unitas. The two QB’s played different games, not just in different times. Baseball has only made a couple of rule changes in the last 100 years, which makes statistics sacred and anything that taints them is simply unacceptable. Fans of the National Pastime (sorry football fans) demand that if today’s players take supplements, they should be the same ones that Babe Ruth did (beer and hot dogs) and that this preserves the purity of the game.
With its natural immunity, the NFL has adopted a new policy when it confronts controversy. When controversy strikes, do nothing (or do just enough as in Spygate) and hope everyone gets distracted by something else. It’s working and the Madonna incident proves that. This kind of apathy has not been seen since the mid-nineties brought on baseball’s steroids era. Maybe the fans’ acceptance of the current NFL drug culture is not the fault of football’s short history or the apathy of the media. Maybe it is because football has never been healthier economically and no one wants to destroy a good thing. However you explain the NFL’s apathy, a disturbing question still lingers. If football’s version of GoodFellas cannot change the drug culture of the NFL, what will? If you are a football fan, opening your eyes might be a start.