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The NFL has a problem

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Paul Tagliabue left behind a juggernaut of a league, one that dwarves the other professional sports leagues. There's no doubt who is the king of the mountain on the American sports landscape. The broadcast networks fall all over themselves to break into the vaults and hand astronomical sums of money to the NFL to televise the games. The NFL even has its own network that will broadcast some games this year. And last years near escape in the labor wars should provide some breathing room for the next couple of seasons.

So it all looks promising for new commissioner Roger Goodell. He was handed the keys to the kingdom with a bright future on the horizon. Underneath, though, there's trouble brewing. An undercurrent of danger that is just beginning to bubble to the surface. This potential disaster has already done damage to another professional sports league, hurting its reputation and calling into question the integrity of the games. Now, the NFL is facing the same problem. Steroids.

Major League Baseball is still trying to recover from the problems of performance-enhancing drugs. What should be the glorious run of Barry Bonds chasing down the all-time home run record is something that most people don't want to touch. Once the thought of Bonds passing Aaron would've been an occasion to celebrate, a time for the nation to watch a magnificent singular achievement. Now, it's tainted. I'm pretty sure the baseball establishment doesn't even want it to happen, because it will only elevate the problem of steroids to a higher level of national questioning. Does Bonds deserve it? Do Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa deserve the record seasons they put up? For years, possibly decades after Bonds breaks the record - if he does - the public will be staring at a name in the records books, one that will hold the most sacred mark in baseball, and wonder if it's legitimate.

The NFL hasn't reached that kind of problem yet, but they better get a handle on it, quickly. Roger Goodell needs to draft some draconian measures to stop the burgeoning questions dead in their tracks. The NFL also needs to spend a piece of their massive treasure chest on developing the science needed to keep up with the cheaters.

It wasn't until this week that I realized that steroids could blind-side the sport I love. The NFL has long been admired as the best run league in professional sports. Now, they have the opportunity to prove once again that they are just that.

Why has this issue just pierced my consciousness?

The Mercury News:

The federal steroids case involving former Carolina Panthers players is ``the tip of the iceberg'' of what might be going on in the NFL, the chairman of a congressional committee probing sports doping said Wednesday.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said there will be more inquiries by the House Committee on Government Reform into the matter after he read a report in Sunday's Charlotte Observer detailing six NFL players' involvement with Dr. James Shortt, formerly of West Columbia, S.C. The players included three starting offensive linemen from Carolina's 2004 Super Bowl team and two other ex-Panthers.

MSNBC:

Washington Redskins offensive lineman Jon Jansen said that "maybe 15, 20 percent" of NFL players use performance-enhancing drugs and that their use is "on the rise now" because of human growth hormone treatments that are undetectable by the NFL's testing method.

"You know guys that are doing it," Jansen said on the HBO program "Costas Now" that aired Wednesday night. "You know that they're cheating and you know that they're trying to get by with something."

NFL.com

Kansas City Chiefs tackle John Welbourn, who unexpectedly retired in June, was suspended for six weeks for violating the league's drug policy.

Welbourn, who was also suspended for the first four games in 2005 under the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, had asked to be reinstated, said Chiefs president Carl Peterson.