When Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger landed on his throwing shoulder and had to exit a wildcard weekend playoff game football, fans assumed the worst. The otherwise listless Steelers were going to add to the snoozers of that weekend. Speculation was that Roethlisberger had either fractured or dislocated his throwing shoulder and there was almost no way he would return to the game.
But with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger returned to lead the Steelers on what would be the game-winning drive. But what was later pointed out on The Bill Simmons Podcast the following Monday was that “when they showed the still shot of Ben with the coat on and he’s just staring into space, you’re wondering what kind of drugs did they pump him up with?” and it presents a fair question: if you’re going to dope these guys up to the point where they can’t feel their faces in order to get them back in the game, isn’t that a performance-enhancing drug?
What the league will say is that medications are administered by and under the supervision of team physicians, but doesn’t that inherently provide a conflict of interest? If the team doctor is employed by the team, he has incentive to worry more about getting that specific player back in the huddle than the player’s long-term health. When strong, addictive medications such as Percocet are given without informing the player of the potential side effects, it presents a pretty clear picture.
But I want the league to stop pretending to exist in this moral high ground. I don’t care about Roger Goodell and he doesn’t care about your opinion; he will say things about “protecting the shield” and that the NFL can set an example for the rest of society, but at the end of the day he reports to 32 disgustingly rich owners and not the American people.
Let the athletes do whatever they can to prolong their fleetingly short careers if it makes the product better by keeping stars like Roethlisberger. The average NFL career is 3.3 years, and no money in contracts is guaranteed unless stipulated as such. The NFL is the modern-day gladiator battle set to pop music and drunken slurs. What the league needs to do is embrace the machismo of the game and do what baseball failed to do and is now dying because of this failure: let the athletes take performance-enhancing drugs under the direction and supervision of team physicians.
Allow the world’s best athletes to ratchet themselves up even more, and before you claim that makes the game fake, realize this: professional sports aren’t real to begin with. They are the epitome of human evolution, the best of the best weaned out and refined to the best our human gene pool has to offer. A mere mortal like you or I wouldn’t be able to survive an NFL football game, let alone take one hit from a lightning-quick, 250-pound, six-foot linebacker and get up for the next play. Although professional sports are real in the sense that the outcomes are up in the air, they aren’t real in the sense that anyone can just jump in and play.
Let the athletes continue to push themselves like they want to and make the product even better for us, the viewers, before football dies or Roger Goodell decides to build a death star, enhance the game to another and make the quality of play better.