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Thursday, 12 February 2015

Is Jerry Rice Getting A Free Pass For StickUm Use?

Jerry Rice making a great catch There is no debating the hard work and dedication that Jerry Rice put in to keeping in top shape before every season, from his first snap as a San Francisco 49er to the end of his career as a member of the Oakland Raiders. The wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State holds many of the records for his position. Amassing 22,895 yards on 1,549 receptions and catching 197 touchdown passes (with an extra 11 touchdowns to boot) and fourteen 1,000 yard seasons. To list all of Rice's achevements is an article in itself. In a league where quarterbacks dominate the spotlight and get all the credit or blame, Jerry Rice is one of a short list of players, along with Jim Brown & Lawrence Taylor, who aren't quarterbacks that get put in the conversation for best football player ever. For him to be put on that level with a couple of guys named Joe Montana & Steve Young throwing him the ball, it says a lot about how talented he really was. Rice was even one of two captains for 2013's new Pro Bowl format with two legends choosing teams from those selected to play in football's annual end of the year all-star game.

Just a few short days ago, Jerry admitted to the world that he used Stickum, a substance banned in 1981. For those who don't know, Stickum is a substance in powder or spray form used to help catch footballs easier. Even with Montana and Young as your quarterbacks, there are going to be many difficult plays to make a great catch to potentially keep a drive a going or even win a game. Rice was as good as anyone at making those plays. After all, you don't get to put up the stats he put up by being unreliable. How much of the great catches can truly be attributed to the Stickum? We really can't say, because while this is disappointing to hear, you don't want to take anything away from his greatness. 

In baseball, steroid use was running rampant during the years Mark McGwire was a St. Louis Cardinal, Barry Bonds was a San Francisco Giant & Sammy Sosa was swinging for the Chicago Cubs. Who can forget Roger Clemens seemingly having many primes as he went to different teams? All of them are having an impossible time getting into the Hall Of Fame despite putting up amazing numbers and being very popular figures. There are many who put Bonds on the short list of greatest baseball players of all time. There is no doubt the steroids helped their performance somewhat, but does it truly take away from their greatness? McGwire was hitting a ton of home runs for the Oakland Athletics but was always injury prone. Once he got on the andro, he stayed healthy and hit his apex with a 70 home run season in 1998. Big Mac did have 49 home runs as a rookie, which broke a record. Barry Bonds topped this number three years later. Every year, people noticed he was bulking up more and more, which further led to the suspicion. To take the conversation away from PED's for a second but to keep the football/baseball comparison, Sammy Sosa was caught using a corked bat. Who knows how many times before this he actually used one. The corked bat doesn't help hit a ball any further, but since the bat is lighter, it can allow more control over a bat. This might be a better comparison than the Stickum, but isn't nearly as popular.

There are conflicting opinions from doctors as to whether or not performance enhancing drugs truly make a difference in an athlete's production on the field. One thing that can't be disputed is talent. If Jay Leno went out and took a bunch of steroids, I would bet my last dollar that he wouldn't be able to hit 15 home runs in a season. No disrespect of course, but there is a lot of practice, dedication and natural ability that factor in to someone having a career in sports. Athletes dedicate their entire lives just for a chance to be among the priviledged few to live off of their on-field abilities. The NFL suspended thirteen players in 2014 for PED use. If having a banned substance in your body is punishable, so should having a banned substance on your hands. 

Perhaps the toughest thing to hear about Jerry Rice's admission to Stickum is that he attempted to throw all of his peers under the bus, saying they all did the same thing. I have no doubt in my mind that he wasn't the only one, but to remove accountability from yourself and say definitively that eveyone else did it certainly makes for a bold statement. Cris Carter took offense and asked not to be included in the accusation. If in fact Carter never used Stickum, then good for him in not letting his name get smeared by Rice. Jerry also spoke up against the New England Patriots during the whole Deflate-Gate mess. I'm not even going to dignify that whole unnecessary mess with its own paragraph, but I will say if the Patriots lots the Super Bowl and the world came down hard even harder on Brady & Company, then there is no reason why Rice's admission should not draw more ire from faithful football lovers everywhere. If Bonds, McGwire, Clemens and others were already in the Hall Of Fame and admitted to steroids or were discovered to have used it, would they be removed from Cooperstown, or simply grandfathered in and the MLB would begin a "from now on" policy? Professional sports is going to start to run the risk of contradicting itself. Obviously, baseball does not have nearly the physical demands of football. Nevertheless, if Jerry Rice can still be in a Hall Of Fame, so can Barry Bonds. 

Stickum did not help Jerry Rice run those routes or do his rigorous off-season workouts or help him maintain a healthy diet for his long professional career. He did a lot on his own merit and nothing should be taken away from him. A real long look needs to be taken into anything that enhances someone's ability to do better on the field. Jerry Rice might have indeed opened a Pandora's box, even if he does go unpunished and even if this story does not get a lot of traction. One day, this moment will come up and the good folks in Canton might have a decision to make. 


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