Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Steroids, Strife and Schtick


I can't find one good reason to get behind Barry Bonds. It's obvious this joker has been loading steroids the way John Goodman hammers cheeseburgers and the fact that this spoiled baseball brat has been a certified jackass from day one makes it easy to laugh as the stuff hitting the fan splatters all over him. I only wish that Barry was white so he couldn't hide behind being black when the critics come calling. Of course he's already proven that he'll hide behind his kids so I guess it wouldn't matter.

But the issue of steroids is rampant. It goes beyond Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Sure, the records they set should be wiped clean from the record books but then again everything that happened in baseball since 1988 should be treated like toxic waste. That includes Rickey Henderson's stolen base record and Cal Ripken Jr.'s consecutive game streak.

I'm not throwing those accomplishments under the bus to prove a point, I really believe that everybody in baseball over the past 15 years is guilty until proven innocent. I know that's harsh and defies the logic of our criminal justice system, but I'm not talking about a criminal trial. This is the court of public opinion and it is the players who, through their union, refused to submit to a meaningful drug testing procedure. You reap what you sow.

I know that it's hard to imagine golden boy Cal taking steroids, but didn't everybody dismiss Jose Canseco's claim that he introduced Rafael Palmeiro to steroids? Not Raffi! Then a few months after wagging his finger at Congress and calling Jose Canseco a liar on national television, Palmeiro tested positive for steroids. He still claims he didn't do it, but nobody believes him.

So why not Cal? He sure managed to stay in shape didn't he? Does that mean everybody who stays fit is a cheater? No. But if you're a professional athlete making millions of dollars you need to pee in a cup and prove that you're legit. Last time I checked Cal didn't pee in any cups. At least not for any drug test. And it's pretty obvious that a few of the guys Cal played with took steroids. Remember how Brady Anderson suddenly packed on 20 pounds of solid muscle and blasted 50 home runs out of the lead off spot? No doubt about the pharmaceutical assistance he got there.

But will peeing in the cup cut it? Bonds and Jason Giambi were taking designer steroids that can't be detected through current testing procedures and many other drugs the players have access to won't show up. The test used by Major League Baseball is a sham. Instead of taking a cue from the International Olympic Committee and selecting a test that accounts for modern advancements in hormonal supplementation, MLB went with the minimum acceptable standard. They don't want to solve the problem at all, they want to appear to be concerned.

Baseball isn't alone. The NFL has a testing policy that former players have called a joke. One doesn't need to look very far to find the freakish physical attributes that tell the tale of steroid use. Somehow wide receivers and defensive backs who weighed under 200 pounds in college manage to become quicker and faster after they bulk up to 220 pounds in the NFL. And you have to be suspicious of the speed and quickness the 250 pound linebackers in the league are capable of. Sure, an intense training regimen can do great things, but you have to be naive if you think that steroids are the exception rather than the rule.

The NBA has seen players get bigger and stronger over the years as well. Fans don't clamor for testing in the NBA because fans don't really clamor for the NBA. A limited fan base provides the NBA and it's cellar-dwelling cousin the NHL a lot of latitude in the drug testing department. Fans seem more concerned that NBA players might smoke marijuana and that Hockey players might wear mullets. And in all honesty, mullets are a menace.

If any sports league was really serious about drug testing, they would happily outsource the entire process to a third party agency that has no interest in the outcome of the tests. As it stands right now. None of the sports leagues want to see their best and most popular players endure the long term humiliation of a positive test. The fact is the leagues don't want testing. It's too much of a hassle. They struggle with enough image issues without having marquee players being suspended regularly for violating the substance abuse policy.

And fans don't want it either. We like to make a stink about fair play integrity and, of course, the children, the poor innocent children who look up to these athletes for guidance and inspiration in ever walk of life, but at the end of the day we want eye-popping highlights. Until everybody takes the issue seriously the leagues will only go through the motions. In short talk is cheap.


The NFL has slowly but surely turned itself into one of the most successful live action entertainment ventures in the history of the modern world. Billions and Billions of dollars change hands in the name of the NFL. Rival professional leagues have come and gone, failing to make a dent in the popularity the NFL enjoys.

The only thing that comes close is college football and that's only because the NCAA doesn't have to pay those future NFL stars who are basically indentured to the farm system for three years before they can get paid for their efforts. If the NCAA ever had to pay those kids, or the NFL decided to stop making it so easy for the NCAA to hold them hostage college football would really be about student athletes and the big time be lucky to see 100, 000 fans over the course of a season.

The NFL has a stranglehold on payroll. While their counterparts in other leagues sign massive guaranteed contracts for a hundred million dollars, NFL players don't have the leverage to secure big salaries or long term security. With the league minimum salary well into the six figure range it's hard to feel sympathy for the players as they struggle through unguaranteed contracts and hard salary caps, but you still can't fault the players for taking an opportunity to push the NFL for more money as the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. The NFL has enjoyed massive revenues and the players are entitled to take what is theirs.

You see, the NFL controls everything related to the game of professional football. In the NBA Lebron James can squeeze Nike for 50 million a year because he's allowed to wear Nike shoes on the court. The NFL controls the apparel agreements so even if a player is popular enough to secure an endorsement deal, he can't get the money an NBA player clears because the NFL will determine which shoes he wears during a game. Even if player does wear a brand not licensed by the NFL, he has to cover the shoe with tape. This is a bone of contention with the players. Not only are they getting short changed on their salaries, they are limited in earning money off the field as well.

But that's only part of the problem with this labor agreement. The players want more money than the owners would like to part with. What else is new? However, the owners are quibbling amongst themselves over the revenue sharing provisions. The NFL controls general revenues and the teams share in that revenue equally. Television contracts, endorsement deals, and licensing agreements are all arranged by the league office and the revenue is divided evenly among the teams. Even the revenue generated by ticket sales is shared among the league to a large degree. And that's fair.

One thing that isn't shared are local revenues. Some teams are very popular in their particular area and they are able to secure local revenue deals with area businesses. The sources of the revenue can be tied to stadium concessions, luxury suite sales, parking and other game related items. Another popular revenue source is naming rights. Then you have various advertisements that can be placed throughout the stadium. Owners of smaller market teams want to share the local revenue while the owners of the larger market teams are logically opposed to it.

Small market owners believe the revenue sharing would help the league by allowing small market teams to be more competitive, large market owners believe that this would reduce incentive to generate local revenues. They don't want to share their money. Who does?

Obviously both sides can make a great case, but the point nobody seems to be making is so simple: If the NFL won't impose a local revenue sharing plan, then the NFL should not be able to prevent teams from moving. While some teams have made controversial moves, the NFL strictly regulates this activity and many proposed moves have been nixed by the league. Reasons have included the size of a particular market, the fan base and the proximity of the desired market to another team. When Art Modell repackaged the Browns as the Ravens and moved to Baltimore the Redskins filed a grievance with the NFL because they felt Baltimore was part of their market. Obviously the NFL disagreed but not until they tendered a cash settlement to the Redskins.

So if the large market owners don't want to share local revenues, that's fine. But then the league can't block moves. So Zygi Wilf can pack up the Vikings and open up shop in Hartford; Bill Bidwill can hop a Greyhound and base the Cardinals in Fort Worth. How would that affect those local revenues? Stop the whining and close the deal.


The World Baseball Classic has to be the biggest sham since they tried to make the All Star game count by putting home field advantage for the World Series at stake. Ho Hum. I'm not even paying attention. Spring training just started which means the players are just now getting into shape. Pitchers aren't ready to throw 200 pitches a game and sluggers haven't shaken off the rust enough to hit a hanging curve ball out of the infield yet. So why should anybody care about the WBC?

I like baseball and I follow it throughout the season, but I don't even get invested into the action until after the All Star break. It's not even interesting until then. They play 162 regular season games but it's only the last 62 of them that really matter and that's a stretch. The casual fan can tune into the action in the last week of the regular season and enjoy baseball as much as the junkie who's been keeping box scores since April 2nd. So tell me again why this WBC matters?
Don't give me national pride. Please. Do you really want to pin your national pride to a bunch of guys trying to shake off 15 pounds of winter flab?

If you want this to matter, extend the All Star break and play it in the middle of the season. Scrap the non-baseball dog and pony show that is the home run derby, do away with the lame excuse for a game that the All Star game has become and play a few double headers over a five day period, give the players a couple of days off on the back end and call it a Classic. Don't hand me some repackaged version of the Grapefruit league and tell me it's exciting. I know better.

Sadly, these three issues have taken center stage in the sports world right before the NCAA announces it's tournament pairings. That's too bad. This is the time of the year we are supposed to suffer from March Madness and we're more worried about this garbage. Here's hoping we come to our senses next week.


Askinstoo said...

Hey! Very Nice! Check out this website I found where you can get a FREE
GAME SYSTEM. It's not available everywhere, so go to the site and put
in your zipcode to see if you can get it. I got mine and sold it!


Anonymous said...

Hello! Best idea, but will this really work?