This was inevitable. That rhetorical question underpins every discussion whenever someone in the NFL tests positive for steroids. We always hear the same thing, and it's always looked upon as some novel concept, probing at a deep hypocrisy within our sports culture:
No one cares if NFL players are on steroids or HGH. If a MLB player was linked to that doctor, the pitchforks would be out.
So, in anticipation of the arguments on sports talk radio, a response: That's not really true.
Football players do get branded with a stigma when they test positive for PEDs. You can't mention Shawne Merriman without someone chiming in with a steroids-related joke. Brian Cushing will be labeled a fraud for the rest of his career. Santana Moss, if this morning's revelations prove true, will suffer a similar fate. Test positive for PEDs—in football, baseball, cycling, anything—and nobody will take you seriously as an athlete ever again.
I mean, for God's sake, the AP re-voted the rookie of the year after Brian Cushing won it this year. He won anyway, yeah. But still. Did anyone retroactively re-vote Barry Bonds MVP awards from 2001-2004? Any "outrage disparity" is an illusion.
So why does it seem different? Because after football players serve their suspensions, they go back to playing, and all that matters is what they can do in a given year. With baseball players, their constantly being measured against history, making it impossible to separate them from their earlier, roided-out self. It's the nature of the games that promotes the different reactions from the media.
Brian Cushing may have rendered himself a laughingstock, but fans will still pay attention to what he does on Sundays this year, because ultimately, that's all that matters in football. What can you do this Sunday? In baseball, it's what you can do this season, and how can we measure that against past seasons of statistics to evaluate what you really did. Steroids throw the entire process off, meaning baseball players get harsher treatment from writers.
As for fans? We care enough to make a joke about "A-Roid", but not enough to discount Alex Rodriguez when it comes time to judging the best players in baseball. No different than football. We'll never take you seriously again, but if you're a good enough player, we'll tolerate you.
Cynics will say, "But Shawne Merriman made the Pro Bowl and nobody talked about steroids!" And to that I'd say, "Alex Rodriguez won the Yankees a World Series last year and nobody talked about steroids!" A-Rod may get harsher treatment from baseball historians, but on the other hand, Merriman will probably just be forgotten once his play declines.
So really, what's the difference?