Alex Rodriguez came out of seclusion (in 2014, that means "three weeks between tweets") on Monday to congratulate his original MLB hometown on winning the Super Bowl. The new champs must have been thrilled. There were already enough links between the Seattle Seahawks and performance enhancing drug infamy, and any connection to A-Rod was bound to juice the hype.
Make no mistake on that: It is definitely hype, wildly exaggerated and pitifully naïve.
You know what a league-leading five PED suspensions since 2010 really say about the Seahawks? That they are probably the NFL's least sophisticated team at beating drug tests.
Five days before the Super Bowl, a Fox Sports columnist wondered why the media's PED outrage meter went to 11 on A-Rod and flat-lined in the face of the Seahawks' suspensions. Online commenters have typed their fingers raw inveighing against the Seahawks' pharmacological cheating.
But does anyone honestly think that the Seahawks appear more pharmaceutically enhanced than other teams in the NFL? Or that they unfairly beat Denver, which tied for second place in the "suspensions-since-2010" category with four?
As the failed drug tests came back to Seattle headquarters, a few players called on their teammates to grow up and stop making foolish choices. It was not clear whether they meant "stop doping" or "find a better masking technique." It all depends on how dependent they believe their teammates have become on a PED and how little regard they have for NFL testing. If they know their history, they won't have much faith in it.
The screenings became a little more difficult to pass in 2005, after Onterrio Smith of the Vikings couldn't get past airport security with his "Original Whizzinator," a contraption comprised of a fake penis, bladder and jockstrap. Vials of untainted, dried urine sold separately. The players had to let testers get more up close and personal during the release of the sample.
But even now, drug testing is a sieve. It is in every sport. The tests are probably useful in skimming off the worst abuse, requiring juiced athletes to moderate their doses -- a pretty valuable effect, if you think about this clearly. The tests may even scare off some potential users, but they won't clean up a sport.
If they did, busting Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton should have done the trick for cycling. Instead, the screenings provided cover for the biggest offender. Lance Armstrong loved to deflect accusations by saying he was the most tested athlete in the world. Marion Jones used the same line repeatedly. And people bought it, even long after the BALCO raid turned up the names of two dozen athletes, most of whom were subject to testing, yet had never been caught.
There were seven NFL players called as grand-jury witnesses against the distributors, including Bill Romanowski (who could have guessed?), Dana Stubblefield and Barret Robbins, the center who went AWOL from the Raiders the night before the 2003 Super Bowl. There were also 15 track stars, all of them tested frequently, and five baseball players.
The NFL, learning on a 14-year-old policy, handed down four-game suspensions. Some track athletes had to sit as long as four years. The appearance of swift, albeit relative, justice was served. MLB did nothing. At the time of the raid, baseball was a season away from implementing full testing with penalties for the first time; the price for a first offense would be confidential counseling, less deterrent than a parking ticket.
That was the big takeaway from BALCO. Baseball had the biggest star in the case, Barry Bonds, and it couldn't touch him. It couldn't lay a glove on fellow MVP Jason Giambi, either. That was the big takeaway from BALCO: MLB impotence. The porous testing used in other sports got second billing.
A-Rod is a bigger star than all of the suspended Seahawks combined. They've done their time. He hasn't. He beat his sport's tests, and apparently spent a fortune to do so. He also confessed once before and received forgiveness. Most people in this country believe in second chances. The Seahawks are working on theirs now. A-Rod is aggressively demanding a third.
Imagine if Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had admitted to using steroids, been linked to a PED-dispensing clinic four years later, then fought a suspension with the vigor of A-Rod. The disgust would be more than equal.
Of the five Seahawks who served PED suspensions, three had become former Seahawks by this season. They all found other NFL jobs, much as Melky Cabrera did in MLB after his 50-game suspension from the Giants in 2012. Back then, some people disparaged San Francisco's World Series win, since Cabrera had been vital to the team's success through the middle of August.
Now, we know that the Tigers, whom the Giants swept in the Series, had a soon-to-be-exposed Biogenesis client on their roster. Jhonny Peralta didn't do much against the Giants, but he had an OPS of 1.199 when the Tigers beat the Yankees in the ALCS that year. Just back from his 50-game suspension this fall, Peralta had an OPS of 1.167 in the ALDS this year against Oakland. And Oakland had Bartolo Colon in its starting rotation, a year after he had served 50 games for PEDs. We can go on like this forever. There's no point to it.
The International Olympic Committee recently figured this out. After Jones confessed to PED use in 2007, the IOC stripped all of the gold and bronze medals that other U.S. women won on 2000 relays with her. In 2010, the medals were restored to Jones' teammates.
If fans want to punish franchises instead of just players for PED infractions, large fines or salary-cap reductions might work. Denying all of the players on a team their due makes no sense. And comparing them to A-Rod? That's just cruel.