Like a gaggle of smitten schoolgirls at an N' Sync
reunion concert, the US Congress swooned this past
week in the presence of the National Football League.
The NFL, ostensibly, came before Congress to testify
about steroid prevention, but they would have had a
tougher time if the House Government Reform Committee
had offered them a hot towel and a back rub.
In stark contrast to the Congressional inquisition
that scalded Major League Baseball, the NFL was
received with a sycophancy to rival Waylon Smithers.
Many Congressmen prefaced their remarks or questions
by calling the NFL's appearance a ``breath of fresh
air.'' As Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays put
it, ``I kind of love you guys."
The conventional wisdom is that the NFL was "rewarded"
with easy treatment for its "vigorous" steroid
enforcement. This is
If Congress wanted to put the NFL on the rack,
there is ample smoke if not fire. In 1989, there were
less than ten players who tipped the scales at over
300 pounds. Now there are 455. But since the league
began testing 15 years ago, only 54 players have been
suspended - none of them famous outside their
immediate neighborhoods. This would be like bringing
war crimes charges against the Bush family and only
The real reason, in my humble opinion, that Congress
was reduced to coquettish glances and blushing titters
was because of what I am calling the Male Cheerleader Principle.
Today, to be a male football cheerleader is to live
with the knowledge that people assume you are either
Gay, have found an inventive way to meet coeds, or are
a frustrated dancer (or any combination of the three).
But male cheerleading has a tradition on elite
campuses that precedes modern definitions. In the "old
days" - sometimes referred to by Tom Delay as "the
future" - campuses were lily white, women didn't play
sports, latent homosexuality was expressed through
bizarre fraternity rituals, and being a male
cheerleader was a sign of leadership, school spirit,
and a desire to engage in the emotion of football
without getting your ascot in a bunch. Both George W.
Bush and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott cut
their teeth as cheerleaders, and that mentality of
uncritical support for football still pervades the
halls of Congress, albeit with a twist. Now instead
of going gaga for Biff the star quarterback, their
adoration is reserved for money and power. When you
cross-breed that with the National Football League,
its unrivaled cultural prestige, and an ownership club
more exclusive than a Papal conclave, this collective
cat nip seemed to overwhelm the committee's senses.
The NFL's saccharine treatment proves only that these congressional hearings are, as Woody Allen once put it a generation ago, "a sham of a mockery of a travesty of a sham."
The league and union should be able create and
implement their own drug policy without Big Brother
getting in the mix. It's also almost too ironic to see
a Congress that over the last ten years has given us
spiraling health care costs, the predominance of HMOS,
and an senior citizen underclass who have to choose
between prescription drugs and food, fulminate about
the nation's health.
There was one moment when the hearings made the
transition from farce to tragedy. This was when Willie
Stewart, head football coach at
Anacostia Senior High School in Washington, D.C.,
testified about how one his former players had died
two weeks ago of kidney failure, a condition the coach
suspects was linked to steroid use. "His death was
just a waste of a human life," Stewart said through a
veil of tears. Willie Stewart has in recent years
become a local symbol of heartache, having coached
numerous players that have died by gunfire,
substandard medical care, or a toxic combination of
the two. But don't expect Congress to hold hearings on
life in South East DC. They want to obscure the fact
that poverty is the true health hazard facing this
country, not performance enchancing drugs.
Dave Zirin's new book "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States" will be in stores in June 2005. Check out his revamped website edgeofsports.com. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.