Street Corner Soapbox: Peyton Manning and PEDs
Peyton Manning, at 37 after several major neck surgeries, broke the record book. Yet no one asks, "PEDs?" Except Jay Stevens.
Baseball Hall of Fame ballots are in. Filled out by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), the list of candidates is stacked. Arguably, two-dozen players have a good case to be included among baseball's greats.
I mean, take a look at this list of players! Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio, Fred McGriff, Lee Smith, Greg Maddux, Jeff Kent, Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmeiro, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Don Mattingly – and perhaps the greatest pitcher and position player in a generation: Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.
But not many will get in this year. Maybe two. Maybe three. Why? Because many writers won't vote for players who used PEDs – performance-enhancing drugs – and Bonds and Clemens and Sosa and McGuire won't reach the 75 percent threshold they need for induction into the Hall because of it.
Not only that, but there are writers who won't vote for players they think did PEDs. Murray Chass, for example, won't vote for Mike Piazza because he once saw back acne on the catcher in the locker room, which, according to Chass, is "a possible sign of steroid use." The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy isn't voting for Jeff Bagwell because players like him – muscle-bound? lantern-jawed? – "don't look right." The Oakland Press' Pat Caputo last year passed on Craig Biggio because even though he doesn't look like a PED user, he was on the same team and "reportedly close" to Jeff Bagwell. And then there are folks like MLB.com's Ken Gurnick, who said this: "I am not voting for anybody from the steroid era."
Needless to say, the bar is set pretty low for accusations of steroid use among major-league baseball players.
That's why it's puzzling that writers are silent about this year's miracle comeback from a career-threatening injury of a 37-year-old player, who not only had a career year, but set a number of all-time league records doing so, and will probably be his league's MVP.
But wait. That's not baseball; that's football. And that's Denver Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning, who this year set NFL single-season records for touchdowns (55), passing yards (5477), and points (606), after coming back from several neck surgeries and nerve damage to his throwing arm.
The last 37-year-old who had a year like this was Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis, who, after tearing a tricep muscle in October 2012, was back on the field in 12 weeks – half the recovery time usually needed for the injury. Sports Illustrated later ran a story that Lewis was provided banned substances to aid his recovery. Little came of that revelation, and it's unlikely Lewis will be shut out from the NFL's Hall of Fame.
So why does the media obsess about PEDs in baseball, but hardly raise a fuss about steroids in football? It's not as if the NFL is free from PEDs. Far from it. Twenty-eight NFL players were suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy in 2013 – and it's generally thought that that's just an indicator of how widespread PED use in the NFL is. It's not just steroids; it's drugs like Torodol, an anti-inflammatory used to reduce pain, or Aderall, used to boost concentration. NFL testing policy doesn't require samples of blood, either, which means drugs like human growth hormones – HGH – used to build body mass, go undetected.
And that's just in the NFL. A 2012 AP report found that as much as 7 percent of all college football players gained more than 20 pounds in weight during a single year – a gain that's highly indicative of PED use. PED usage is also common in high-school – the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel found that South Florida parents are seeking out growth hormones for their children to give them advantage in pursuing college scholarships for sports.
Maybe writers ignore NFL PED usage because football isn't measured in precise, symmetrical numbers the way baseball is. PEDs don't taint the NFL record books because we don't care about the NFL record books. Or maybe writers expect football players to use PEDs. Maybe they feel PEDs fit naturally into the violence and body mass required of the game. Perhaps, in baseball, they think PEDs threaten the delicate balance between batter and pitcher – and the game itself.
And maybe we don't want the media to overreact to PEDs in the NFL the way they have in baseball. Do we want the Murray Chasses of the world to fret over every muscle-bound running back, every broken passing record, every extraordinary story of perseverance and glory in football? Isn't it better to believe in the play calling, decision making, and the extraordinary work ethic of Peyton Manning, who Sports Illustrated named Sportsman of 2013 in light of his near miraculous comeback? Isn't it prettier to believe in the man?
And Barry Bonds, as a 37-year-old, hit .370/.582/.799 with 46 homers for the San Francisco Giants in 2002. In a pitcher's park.
Jay Stevens can be contacted at Jay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj.