Ten days ago, I lived in a world where deer antler spray was not on my radar. If pressed to define its use, I would have been forced to lie and sound foolish.
However, if you followed the hype leading up to the Super Bowl — and were not easily distracted by SportsCenter keeping track of which Harbaugh brother smiled more times during their joint press conference (the answer is John with 7 over Jim with 3) — you heard a lot of news about Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’s possible doping allegations, as well as other athletes, related to their use of deer antler spray to promote muscle growth.
What makes this particularly interesting is that it comes on the heels of an extraordinary circumstance in Major League Baseball last month: no player gained the 75 percent approval needed to secure a place in this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame class. This has happened seven other times in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame, but there are record-holding players on the list that did not come close to securing a spot.
This year’s ballot recorded the third-highest number of votes, and players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens were all included. These aforementioned players have all been connected to steroid use during their careers, and several of them have admitted to their usage of performance enhancing drugs during their careers.
Even though not all of the players on the ballot have been linked to steroid use — and notable players that deserve to be in the Hall of Fame such as Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were also not voted into this year’s class — the message is clear. Schilling commented on the voting results by saying, “I think as a player, a group, this is one of the first times that we’ve been publicly called out.”
It would seem that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which does the voting, has taken this opportunity to punish these players that have seemingly betrayed our trust in the glory of baseball. This is not the first occasion of this feeble attempt at making a statement; Pete Rose serves as a prime example of how cheating can keep you from the Hall of Fame.
So when it came to light in the week leading up to the Super Bowl that Lewis, as well as several Alabama players from the NCAA Football Championship team here had been reportedly using deer antler spray, which contains a substance banned by the NFL as well as the NCAA, it became a major story.
It seems ignorant to ignore the fact that Ray Lewis, at the extremely old age of 37 for an NFL player, came back from a torn tricep to play in the Super Bowl. This injury, which is known to take an average of six months for a full recovery, only took Lewis ten weeks to overcome and return to playing for the final games of the Ravens season.
It would seem that to juxtapose this miraculous feat with the Baseball Hall of Fame vote — not to mention the wonderful production being put on by Lance Armstrong in recent weeks — that sports fans are willingly ignoring Lewis’ recovery timeline. Where the MLB players have testified and admitted to their steroid usage and Lance Armstrong’s two hour chat with Oprah left nothing to the imagination, people are seemingly willing to hold out hope for Lewis.
Following the onslaught of media attention, the response from the Ravens’ management seemed like the broken record heard over and over again by any professional athlete accused of doping. ESPN quoted John Harbaugh, head coach of the Ravens and one of the aforementioned smiling brothers, as saying, “My understanding is that he’s passed every random substance test that he’s taken throughout his career.”
The first problem with this statement is “My understanding is that” seems like a gray area created in a black and white question. He either has or he has not used PEDs and it should be extremely clear if he has failed a substance test in the past. Second, to offer this statement up as the support for your star linebacker, and repeat what can only be called the battle cry of Lance Armstrong for the past decade, was insulting to sports fans everywhere.
I don’t believe that Lewis recovered from his torn tricep with his own will and determination, and I don’t believe that anyone linked to a company that is actually called Sports with Alternatives to Steroids is acting within the rules.
Whether or not this story and indictment will carry over into the legacy of Lewis remains to be seen, but for someone who allegedly committed a double murder after his last Super Bowl and made it out without going to jail, I’m going to propose that it doesn’t seem like this allegation will hold.
The lesson to be gained from the connection between Lewis and the Hall of Fame ballot is that the amount of cheating in sports has almost reached a tipping point, if it hasn’t already. It is no longer reasonable to give someone like Ray Lewis the benefit of the doubt when he comes back from an injury in less than half the prescribed time.
The records of the MLB players who “tarnished” the game still stand. There is no asterisk. Nor is there a small footnote accompanying Lewis’s MVP award. It’s not the place of the Hall of Fame to pass moral judgment if the excellence of these players is still being acknowledged in baseball.
So now it will be up to the NFL and other professional sports leagues to decide to take a firm stand, or retroactively punish players 10 years after their playing careers. They either have to start questioning the integrity of the sport, or they are forced to honor its cheaters.