Baseball is dirty.
So are track and field and cycling, which are reeling from allegations of doping against world 100-meter record holder Justin Gatlin and Floyd Landis, facing the loss of his Tour de France title.
But the NFL, with more muscled marvels than any other league in the world, is clean.
It makes little sense, but isn't that the perception? That the players who need size and strength the most, who have even more financial incentive to cheat because of their non-guaranteed contracts, aren't using performance-enhancing drugs?
The NFL and its players will tell you it's because the league's steroid policy is so tough. Dr. Charles Yesalis, a retired Penn State University professor and an expert on performance-enhancing drugs, scoffs at the notion.
Yesalis was there when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was all but honored by congressmen supposedly scrutinizing steroids in his sport, while baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was berated and publicly shamed.
Yesalis suspects NFL players are at least as dirty as athletes in baseball, track and cycling, if not more. So why don't more people believe it?
"You are not going to like the answer," Yesalis said. "Inept journalists."
Sounded like fighting words until Yesalis explained he's not advocating that reporters finger individual cheats (which is much more difficult than most media critics would have you believe). He just wants more skepticism about the NFL's statements and policies on performance-enhancing drugs.
It's not like there isn't a basis for questioning the NFL's policies. There are many of the same elements at play as in baseball.
You have a prominent former football player, Bill Romanowski, admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. Four Oakland Raiders (including Romanowski) reportedly tested positive for TGH in the wake of BALCO. Dr. James Shortt, who was sentenced to prison for illegally providing steroids and human-growth hormone to patients (he's appealing), said during an HBO interview that he treated as many as 24 NFL players.
Pro Bowl tackle Todd Steussie, a patient of Shortt's while with Carolina, filled 11 prescriptions for testosterone cream during an eight-month period, according to prosecutors.
"So Dr. Shortt is the only doctor in the U.S. that is helping NFL players?" Yesalis said. "If you believe that, then you have to believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus."
None of the NFL players named as Shortt's patients tested positive for steroids, and the Raiders players didn't get busted until after THG came to the forefront. That suggests the NFL is behind, not at the forefront, of efforts to catch drug cheats.
Closing the gap
Yesalis isn't sure the testers can ever catch up to the cheats, but the NFL could at least help close the gap. For example, there isn't a reliable urine test for HGH now, but there would be one soon if the NFL put its financial might behind the efforts.
That, of course, would mean the NFL really wanted to catch and punish its drug cheats. The lack of testing for HGH is a major loophole in the NFL's policy.
There's enough evidence on record to at least question how many NFL players are dirty, but not much public reaction. Perhaps fans just don't care as much about NFL drug cheaters, or maybe it's because no star player has been publicly identified as testing positive.
But consider that the league administers its program, with the commissioner hearing appeals. The player, team and league all have incentive to keep positive tests quiet. An independent agency that tests players and hands out punishment would lend credibility to the NFL's boasts about its program.
"One of the major fiascoes about the NFL testing program is it's not transparent in the least," Yesalis said. "You only know about positives that Tagliabue wants you to know about."
That's something plenty of critics are saying about Selig and baseball. Why aren't more people saying the same about Tagliabue and football?
Baseball is dirty.