If Titans troubled cornerback Pacman Jones played in the NBA, we’d be calling for him to be thrown out of the league for life. If the Cincinnati Bengals switched places with the Indiana Pacers, ESPN would do specials about the NBA’s image problem. If Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman played baseball, analysts would call for Bud Selig’s head.
What makes the NFL different? Why are we appalled when an NBA player gets arrested for drunk driving while we look the other way when a football player gets picked up for beating his wife? Why do some of us literally want Barry Bonds sent to prison while we marvel at how incredible it is that Merriman could lead the league in sacks (17) while only playing in 12 games(due to his four-game suspension for steroids)?
There are a variety of reasons that we seem to notice the problems in the NBA and MLB more than we realize what’s going on in the NFL. The main reason is that the National Football League simply does a better job divulging information to the press. Unlike Major League Baseball, which simply tried to avoid the obvious issue of steroid use, the NFL has been more transparent and forthcoming. Players are tested regularly and randomly and stars are subject to the same rules as everyone else. Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner and former Miami Dolphins’ running back, was suspended for the entire 2006 season because he violated the league’s substance abuse policy for a fourth time. This past season, Merriman was caught using steroids and was quickly suspended by the league. The NFL does a fantastic job about being up front with player problems. Honesty makes it very difficult for the press to spend time ripping the NFL because the league admits the transgression and dishes out punishment in a swift manner.
Major League Baseball, on the other hand, has done an atrocious job in gaining the trust of fans and media. By not implementing a strong steroid policy and failing to properly deal with the Barry Bonds issue, baseball has given itself an image problem. Fans are skeptical that the league will throw a star player under the bus and as a result, the fans and media analyze and speculate at every point along the way.
The NBA’s so-called “image” problems are the least glaring of the big three pro sports regarding character. The league has gotten a bad rap largely due to the actions of Ron Artest. His involvement in the Pacers-Pistons brawl is the only event that stands out in my eyes, yet the average fan would probably tell you that the NBA has by far the biggest integrity problem. That fan would be wrong.
Since being drafted in the first round by the Tennessee Titans in 2005, cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones has been arrested 10 times, which is six more apprehensions that interceptions he has caught in two pro seasons. The Cincinnati Bengals had nine different players arrested this season. That’s not a typo; the Bengals had nine different players arrested. Wide receiver Chris Henry was arrested on three separate occasions in the past year. He received only a two-game suspension for his conduct. Shawne Merriman, the NFL’s best defensive player, tested positive for steroids. Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth stomped on Cowboy Andre Gurode’s helmet-less head during a game this season. Does anyone care? Does anyone find these transgressions problematic?
I think we are all bothered a bit by all of the incidents I just listed, but I think it’s also safe to say that we would care a lot more if it were happening in the NBA. It bothers me that the NFL doesn’t get ripped for having “thugs” while the NBA does. We constantly hear about the NBA’s image problem. Why on earth do we all think the NBA has an image problem? NBA players seem to get in a lot less trouble than those who play football. Just because Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson have a lot of tattoos does not make them thugs. Being a thug is stepping on a guy’s head when he’s lying on the ground or getting arrested 10 times in two years. A person is not a thug if they have tattoos or wear baggy shorts.
While no one would deny that baseball has a steroid problem, why do we not suspect more NFL players of taking performance-enhancing drugs? The NFL doesn’t test for Human Growth Hormone. Do any of us really think that all of these guys got as big as they are through just hard work? I don’t think so.
If you don’t expect athletes to be role models, that’s fine. But if that’s the case, stop caring about the NBA’s so-called image problem and stop ripping baseball players for being juiced. Recognize that the problems in the NFL right now are far more pressing than those in the NBA and ask the same questions about both baseball and football’s steroid policies.