Easterbrook’s eye-roller

DMZ · January 18, 2005 at 1:26 pm · Filed Under Off-topic ranting 

Today’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback contains this lovely tidbit

In the National Football League, which elaborately tests for steroids and many other drugs, including many supplements. NFL players get their physiques the old-fashioned way. Those who get their physiques through chemical shortcuts may end up with long-term health consequences — Major League Baseball better have a good health-insurance plan for retirees, because there are going to be some very sick former players.

I should put a [sic] in there for the first part, but anyway.

I used to read Easterbrook regularly. I’ve read his books. But many of the things that turned me off to his stuff come forth here. You can find other people harping on his poor fact-checking elsewhere, and his run in with ESPN over some bizarre things he said about some Jewish guys got more attention than it probably deserved, so — I’ll skip those.

This statement of his is the most close-minded, simplistic thing I’ve ever read from him. I’ve endured his derisive comments about baseball before, but this — this is too much. This opinion defies logic.

If you believe that there are MLB players are on steroids, say on the basis of the leaked evidence in the BALCO case — then you should recognize Bill Romanowski was one of those named.

If you believe that MLB players are on steroids because you’re suspicious of their body types and performances, then how can you look at football players and not have those same thoughts? Does Easterbrook really believe that none of those NFL players takes steroids? That they’re all on Carnation Instant Breakfast, which he recommends in this column? That alllllll those 300-lb guys who run a 40-yard dash in under 5 seconds do so on extra-hearty soup and a good workout regimen?

And if he believes that, why not give baseball players the same benefit of the doubt?


32 Responses to “Easterbrook’s eye-roller”

  1. Zzyzx on January 18th, 2005 1:58 pm

    The real reason to not read TMQ is that he creates laws, reports evidence whenever something happens to support one of his laws, and ignores counterexamples.

  2. DMZ on January 18th, 2005 2:06 pm

    Hey, and isn’t this really a case of that?

  3. Jeremy on January 18th, 2005 2:07 pm

    Easterbrook lost credibility with me the moment he referred to the Seahawks as the “Blue Men Group”.

  4. Aaron on January 18th, 2005 2:22 pm

    Unfortunately, the only web equivelant for Nielsen Ratings are page hit counters, but those don’t discriminate between the “Gosh I like this guy, I’ll read his latest column” hits and the “Haha, check out this guy’s latest load of crap (link)” hits.

    I suspect that he is successful because he gets lots of readers, but between all his different ventures, there are a great deal of the latter type.

  5. DMZ on January 18th, 2005 2:29 pm

    What sorta sucks too is that I really liked his religion book (and I don’t want to turn this into a religious argument) — while flawed, I thought it was a really good argument for how one can be skeptical, rational, and religious at once. And I think on one level Easterbrook has an excellent point to make about how spirituality doesn’t necc. conflict with intelligence, and intelligence certainly shouldn’t look down on it.

    And yet he’ll turn that into little “ha ha, science thinks there’s 19 dimensions, but still denies the existence of God” things. And I always think “look, if your point is that some people have needless contempt for the religious, I agree, but the opposite is true, and baiting people proves nothing. Make your larger argument or pass up the cheap shot.”

  6. Jeff on January 18th, 2005 2:33 pm

    Easterbrook is a joke and has been a joke for years. I used to read his stuff just to fact-check it, but my blood pressure got too high, so I try to ignore him now. His obsessive cheerleader-ogling in TMQ was creepy as well.

    It should also be mentioned that he wrote one of the worst books ever about the environment, “A Moment On The Earth.”

  7. DMZ on January 18th, 2005 2:36 pm

    Jeff– oh, that book was terrible.

  8. Morgan on January 18th, 2005 2:36 pm

    I used to read TMQ a lot during the 2002 NFL season, but I got sick of the rigid formula that he uses to consistently pump out the insanely wordy columns and the stupid “laws” that are only backed up sometimes.

    Now I usually just search for “Seattle,” “Seahawk,” “Blue Man Group” or, more recently, “drop,” heh. Sometimes he’ll have some interesting stats included (and I’m a glutton for punishment and seek out anything published about the ‘hawks by the mainstream media).

    But the reason that the excerpted bit irks me is, look at the lifespan of football players to baseball players. Mike Webster from the ’70s Steelers died at 50. Reggie White died at 43. That’s not even mentioning guys like Korey Stringer.

  9. Morgan on January 18th, 2005 2:39 pm

    Oh, and the cheerleader bits are one of the biggest reasons I stopped reading it. It gives me the shivers, heh.

  10. Zzyzx on January 18th, 2005 2:52 pm

    Well the other thing is that he does occasionally have good insights. If you read today’s Salon’s sports column after reading today’s TMQ, it’s odd to see that Easterbrook explained everything that Kauffman is wondering about.

  11. Evan on January 18th, 2005 2:55 pm

    You’ve tempted me, Derek. I have to read any book featuring an argument described as both “really good” and “flawed”, characteristics I deem mutually exclusive.

    Off I go to browse Amazon…

    Ohh… An argument from design? I’m disappointed.

  12. ambivalentmaybe on January 18th, 2005 3:08 pm

    I’ve not read anything by Mr. Easterbrook aside from the column (or section of a column–my God, was all *that* just *one* column; as Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac, ‘That’s not writing; it’s typing’). But I take Easterbrook’s point to be that the NFL has a serious anti-steroids testing program, and that baseball hasn’t had one. I don’t know the details of either program, but if the NFL has been testing for some time, and baseball has not, then perhaps it’s reasonable to assume that fewer NFL players than baseball players regularly take banned substances that will show up in tests, Easterbrook’s other faults against logic aside.

  13. Kyle on January 18th, 2005 3:27 pm

    I was about to say the same thing Morgan said. The NFL doesn’t exactly have a great track record at maximizing the post-career health of its alumni. For every Caminiti there are a bunch of Reggie Whites – and he probably didn’t even use steroids. The current generation of NFL players, whether they break the rules or not, is as a group much larger and thus will probably face even more health problems down the line.

  14. Morgan on January 18th, 2005 3:38 pm

    Larger both in size and quanity (given that there’s 53 players per team, 32 teams, not counting practice squads and NFL Europe). I don’t have any hard numbers regarding it, but it seems to me that a lot of players from the 70s are starting to die fairly young (although all I can think of off the top of my head are Webster and Johnny Unitas, who was before that generation and lived a pretty full life). If those guys are unhealthy in a time when linemen maxed out at, what, maybe 270 lbs., what’s it going to be like now when there are 330 lbs. players (both for those big guys and for the guys who are getting thumped on by said big guys).

    It’s a sport that I love to follow and watch, but really, when it comes down to it, it’s a pretty depressing thing. Even more so when you compare salaries with other sports (not counting insane Manning-level signing bonuses).

  15. DMZ on January 18th, 2005 3:42 pm

    But I take Easterbrook’s point to be that the NFL has a serious anti-steroids testing program, and that baseball hasn’t had one.

    If that were true, yes, you’d be right, but it’s not. Easterbrook starts out “Look, baseball finally got a steroid testing program” and then gets into “ha ha ha, football is clean” which is where he goes wrong, and then keeps on going.

  16. John Hawkins on January 18th, 2005 3:57 pm

    TMQ is good for nicknames (Flaming Thumbtacks is my favorite, and anyone who doesn’t like the Seahawks being called “Blue Man Group” shouldn’t ask what I call them these days – at least BMG is entertaining…).

    But Easterbrook was really off on this one. NFL players generally have much shorter, and much more pain-filled, retirements than MLB players. Even for guys who don’t use steroids. Football is harder on the body than baseball. I wonder how much influence seeing his what his dad goes through after an NFL career had on the youngest Tui’s decision to play baseball?

  17. Matt Williams on January 18th, 2005 4:58 pm

    One thing he ignores is that I would be very certain that football players start taking steroids younger than baseball players. Steroids aren’t going to turn a decent high school baseball player into someone with a chance to play in college, or make a college player good enough to be drafted. I would even argue about how much difference they probably make for your average MLB player. I think if you plotted when baseball players took steroids it would be most concentrated in the minor leagues with guys trying to get every slight edge to work their way up…and your average minor leaguer is much older than football and basketball players go pro.

    Steroids will make an absolutely huge difference for a high school or college football player. Going from being a 200 pound linebacker to being 230 pounds, if it’s all muscle, is a gigantic step ahead compared to your competition.

  18. Tyler on January 18th, 2005 5:43 pm

    I too used to enjoy TM with Easter-Egg, but then he even got too esoteric for my rambling roving sense of humor. There was a time when I looked forward to his articles almost as much as Simmons, when SportsGuy was cold. And loved the Seattle Blue Man Group comment.

    You all are right on him, though. He is at his best brilliantly engaging, and at his worst almost unreadably self-righteous.

    I do enjoy some of his articles (The Atlantic, i believe) but he is very hit and miss. I too may have to check DMZ’s book reference out, when i’m done grading 100 final papers. eck!

    Also feel like I should put it on record that I don’t at all see fault with what he wrote at another location and got fired for at ESPN. If they were to fire him for his quality of writing, that seemed fair. But what he wrote, in context, was somewhat reasonable–particularily when compared to some of the stuff that (used to) come out of Wiley and the KC guy Whitlock.

    The firing reeked of ridiculously excessive p.c.

    Ahh.. I do miss Wiley. *sigh* He was awesome, and that Simmons/Wiley back and forth that ended before it started had so much potential. TMQB– don’t miss him a bit. This quote is a prime example why.

  19. James on January 19th, 2005 12:43 am

    …and how does the NFL matchup with guys like Buck O’Neill, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

    Most of my baseball legends, you’ve had to drag them to their coffin, kicking and screaming.

    Yes, the NFL has an elaborate test for steroids and other drugs. Which is why they suspend many more of their players each year for testing positive for illegal substances than any other professional sport. For every Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, there’s 5 Leon Letts and Koren Robinsons.

    Granted, that last comment is anecdotal, off-the-cuff, unsubstantiated, etc., but I’d love to see the numbers of suspensions the NFL hands down compared to the numbers MLB will hand down in the future.

    Time will tell, I guess.

  20. DMZ on January 19th, 2005 1:46 am

    Say the NFL suspends 10 people next year for its drug testing and MLB only suspends 1. That doesn’t mean that the NFL is 10x cleaner, or that 10x the number of NFL players use those drugs compared to MLB. It’s never going to be that simple.

  21. John Morgan on January 19th, 2005 6:49 am

    I’m still in college, and for many years I wanted to get into sports journalism. I pretty much cancelled those plans in high school, because, I only saw two types of mainstream sports journalist around anymore. Former players who can’t communicate, but are seemingly entitled to some exclusive and highly valuable insider knowledge. And those willing to toe the line. You know, the ones vilifying Kobe Bryant despite his acquittal. The ones who must fill airtime/column inches with reactionary drivel that they, themselves, may contradict in a later piece.

    For me, one of the real treats of the “Sabermetric Revolution” is that fresh, intelligent and perhaps most importantly independent minded sports-writers are once again being published regularly. So thanks for renewing my hope.

  22. Cliff C on January 19th, 2005 7:23 am

    That excerpted comment was a bit amazing, I decided not to think about it when I read it simply because of its’eye glazing nature. I would hope a non-drug using baseball player would have a long life, after all 3 hours a day 9 months a year of work ain’t really all that tough. Yeah, yeah, it is all full time occupation these days, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that Ron Villone will not put in 50 times the amount of work I do this year for his 50 times the paycheck. Oh, to have been born a lefthander with a decent curve ball! Football players because of the car wreck phenomenon of their work are much more likely to have a tougher time getting to old age. There is no question that steroid use hit football hard in the ’70s and early 80’s. A little tougher these days to get away with it (note: Koren got suspended for a few too many tokes on the bong, not steroids, that was Shawn Springs a couple of years ago). Regarding Easterbrook I do think he brings a different perspective to the game (I am not sure why some of the commenters are upset about cheerleader photos), certainly if your knowledge of football is dependent on, say, the Go-to-guy, or listening/watching the TV experts, oh my goodness….. Maybe you guys won’t like it, but part of the appeal of USSM is that you too are not part of “the group”, and your perspective does come from the outside. Which is fine by me. The new Gregg name for the Seahawks is the Seattle Folgers by the way.

  23. Morgan on January 19th, 2005 8:17 am

    Heh, good to the last drop?

  24. Evan on January 19th, 2005 9:30 am

    I’m teaching my kid (when I have one) to throw lefthanded. I figure a sinker and a change should do it.

  25. JP on January 19th, 2005 12:57 pm

    I have not read much of Easterbrook, but both the NFL and MLB drug policies are joke compared to the Olympics.

  26. Evan on January 19th, 2005 3:04 pm

    Only if your goal is to draw a completely arbitrary line in the sand, JP.

  27. jeff angus on January 19th, 2005 3:22 pm

    The Easterbrook column is breathtakingly off-kilter in its logic & exactly the way you pointed out — if looking at Ken Caminiti and saying he looked more like a football player than a baseball player makes one suspect he’s on illegal substances, how can one hold up the image of what flagged him as impure as pure itself?

    He’s a super-smart guy outside of sports, but jeez, we should make him the poster boy for the supplements witch-hunt. The lack of consistency in his argument would weaken their side — kinda like making Joe Lieberman the celebrity spokesman for some new kind of sports car.

  28. jeff angus on January 19th, 2005 3:28 pm

    and OT only slightly, it’s not like FDA testing over the last decade guarantee much of anything. The regulations permit a wide latitude that results in early paying customers of approved pharaceuticals end up being what would have been the pre-release test group in the regulations they had back when Reagan was president & O’Neill was majority leader.

    An FDA approval to sell into the public market is no more indiciative of probably-fail-safe than a contemporary software company issuing a release that ends in the numbers “.0”.

  29. adam on January 19th, 2005 6:31 pm



  30. Bela Txadux on January 19th, 2005 11:19 pm

    I never read any sports columnist since, as a group, they set my teeth on edge. Bill James, beau sabr, was the only exception to this ever, but even then I wasn’t always reading him for content. I like the style of his writing, and moreover I liked and still like the style of his _thinking_. I learned quite alot from both of those long, long ago. Whether I agreed with him was tertiary; how he made his point was primary. I’ve never found anyone else who consistently interested me, even while there are many others who do, in fact, both have good content and make good arguments.

    —But ignore the source and consider the issues in the quote on ‘who’s the cheat,’ of which there are two, primarily. One, ‘football players have real muscles because there is testing; ergo they don’t cheat.’ Two, ‘many baseball players are going to have health problems at young ages related to performance enhancers since there’s been no testing regime in baseball.’

    I think the first statement is an assumption based on false reasoning. Like Matt Williams, it’s my impression that the use of enhancers by _high school athletes_ is extensive, and among high school footballers rampant. I also suspect that abuse of enhancers at the college level is extensive. Furthermore, the fact that the NFL has a testing regime doesn’t mean that guys don’t cheat; I think many do, and use masking strategies. But the real problem with abuse in football is among guys before they’re drafted by the pros. This will be very difficult to impact by testing at the pro level, no matter how successful such testing may be, since the major incentive to use comes among guys trying to shoot the moon with the draft lottery. I suspect many of them tell themselves, “I’ll only use until the draft.” If so, many of them may keep that mental bargain. What the NFL _should_ be doing is insisting that all college juniors on a ‘draft track’ sign up with an accredited testing program—or they’re out of the picture, period, full stop.

    At the NFL level, Romanowski is the telling case: BALCO’s juice was undetectable at the time. We only know about BALCO because Vince Conte was an idiot who did everything out in the open, he was _going_ to get caught. Nobody has said that HE or anyone on his payroll invented the stuff he was dealing: somebody else did, that’s what the whole investigation is about, to see if he’ll sing rather than do time. I assume that whoever synthesized the stuff has been dealing it to other outlets run by smarter operators. I assume that many current NFL players use, and that they may have had access to the same stuff, or other variants. Testing drives down the numbers, but there will always be guys who cut a corner off. By the way: just where _did_ all those ripped BASKETBALL players come from in the last 8-9 years, hey?

    Someone with a better read on enhancer abuse in baseball’s minor leagues might know if the problem is extensive there. Personally, I’m skeptical that abuse is _more_ extensive in the minors than in the majors. There are so many reasons a team can dump you in the minors, and often you are promoted on ‘projection’ as much as on real numbers. I think the ‘wobbly moment’ for baseball players regarding use comes particularly when a baseball player faces a chronic injury that doesn’t keep them out of the lineup per se but which significantly degrades their importance; in other words, when a chronic injury threatens a player’s possibility of a further career. The major leaguers I’ve suspected of using often fall into this profile. Such a juncture can come in the majors _or_ minors, but it’s ‘bubble’ guys at the major league level who are under the biggest pressure. Accordingly, many more folks are likely to have used something to get through a bad year than simply those who _stay_ ballooned up, in body and in numbers.

    Whether there is going to be a wave of enhancement related illness coming among current major league players after they retire I couldn’t say since the medical long-terms on use aren’t ironclad. If a guy gets a heart condition, but successfully manages that with medication, where does he lie on the outcome matrix? Fundamentally: I don’t care about the later life of abusers, that’s their problem. I _do_ care about a lot of high school and college atheletes loading up. Executing the careers of high profile, professional players can have some impact on that.

    Testing is like a firewall; it doesn’t guarantee you’re laptop won’t get a worm, but it saves the system you’re logged into. One year, automatic bans for positive tests; lifetime bans for second positives; year round random testing for all players: these won’t _eliminate_ abuse. But they’re a firewall to save their sports and discourage underage atheletes from juicing up ‘since everybody else does.’

  31. Evan on January 20th, 2005 2:45 pm

    There is only one professional league left that doesn’t madly test its athletes to see if they’re trying to get better.

    The NHL. The NHL has no testing. Which is one of the reasons I very much want hockey back. Holy counter-example, Batman. Hockey fans don’t complain about steroids.

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