Preachy Sports Media Culpable For NFL Pill-Popping

Preachy Sports Media Culpable For NFL Pill-Popping

On Sunday, federal drug agents raided National Football League medical staff from the Seattle Seahawks to the San Francisco 49ers in the search for illicit drugs.

For literally decades, players have talked about the ease of obtaining illicit performance-enhancing drugs and painkillers, and have accused teams of encouraging the use of such drugs via training staff. Just last year, former NFL tight end Nate Jackson wrote in his bestselling memoir, Slow Getting Up, “The needle was the last resort when pain was too much or progress too slow…. Every game a needle.” The Washington Post reported last year that 69 percent of players who had retired after 2000 took Toradol, a serious pain medication. Among those who said they wished they had played through pain less often, 68 percent said they had no choice but to do so.

The sports networks were predictably outraged about the revelation of the NFL’s nefarious connections with illicit drugs, just as they had been with regard to revelations about steroids in baseball and brain injuries in football players. Shock always replaces self-reflection for the media elite, who make millions off the physically crushing billion-dollar sports they cover. They then act shocked when others break the rules in order to enter the world of those billion-dollar sports. It’s ridiculous when Sports Illustrated tut-tuts over concussions in football when every other cover features a dynamite hit on a running back. It’s just as silly when the sports media feign surprise over pills in locker rooms.

In September 2011, ESPN renewed Monday Night Football for a whopping $15.2 billion through 2021. That number represents an annual increase of 73 percent over the previous ESPN price. CBS, NBC, and Fox pay the NFL $39.6 billion for the privilege of carrying the other games. DirecTV pays the NFL $1 billion each year. That’s not even counting the millions earned from Sirius Satellite Radio, Westwood One, and Verizon Mobile. Those media pay the NFL a fortune because they earn a fortune from the NFL. NFL games represented nine of the top ten telecasts of 2013. The top four telecasts were related to the Super Bowl.

With that amount of money floating around, the average NFL player earns $1.9 million per year. If you can make it to age 28, your salary will jump, on average, to $4 million per year.

If you can stay on the field. Unlike contracts in basketball and baseball, NFL contracts are generally not “guaranteed” in the sense that if you are injured, you receive your full salary. You get paid if you don’t get hurt. And you get new contracts if you stay healthy. That tendency explains the long-term trend away from running backs (who are easily replaceable and get hurt younger) and toward quarterbacks and those who protect the pocket.

So if you are a football player, your top priority is playing, even if you’re playing hurt. The sports media understand that, and overlook it. That’s why just a few years back, ESPN featured a segment centered on big hits, “Jacked Up,” in which clips of huge collisions filled the screen, to the accompaniment of the commentators. As Aaron Gordon of rightly described:

When Tom Jackson completed his Tough Man Homily, he says, “You just got…” and leaves it hanging for Irvin, Jackson, and now-vocal post-concussion syndrome sufferer Steve Young to somewhat-enthusiastically shout, in unison, “Jacked Up!” They did this after every hit.

The same was true of baseball during its steroid heyday, when commercials for the All-Star Game featured cartoons of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Pedro Martinez, all muscled up like Captain America. As Diane Pucin of the Los Angeles Times wrote at the time, “This is what Major League Baseball officials see as the best way to turn fans on to the graceful game of summer–by making its big names appear to be on massive doses of steroids. Baseball is being marketed as professional wrestling.” So did the media. So did the fans.

Then the steroid scandal broke, and everyone pretended shock. 

So let’s not pretend shock at the pill-popping in the NFL. That’s what we pay to watch. It’s what we want to see. And the high-and-mighty folks in the sports media who pretend that their condemnations of such activities by teams, trainers, and players in the locker room are merely good faith attempts to set everything straight are hypocrites. 

Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.