Luke Graham: The Never Foul League

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Apparently it's still all about popularity.

On elementary school playgrounds, middle school lunchrooms and high school classrooms.

And now it's in the new American pastime, the NFL.

A recent Reuters poll gave us the information everyone already knew; the NFL is America's favorite sport to watch.

With 29 percent of the vote, the NFL doubled the next closest sport (baseball with 14 percent of the vote).

And now it all makes sense.

Carmelo Anthony, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson gave the NBA a thug reputation.

Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco defined the steroid era of MLB.

And the NHL, well the NHL lost most of its fans after Wayne Gretzky retired or when the owners and players gave us a hockey less 2004-05 season. NASCAR is now widely more popular than the NHL.

But for the NFL, its reputation has remained - at least in public perception - as pure as June Cleaver and Lassie.

But why?

The NFL - in reality - should have had the biggest black eye of any of the major sports from 2006.

Anthony sucker punches a Knicks player and gets a 15-game suspension. An NFL player outdoes Anthony, when Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth stomped on Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode's head three times and gets five games.

What's worse? One limp wrist, punch/slap or a defenseless player on the ground without his helmet getting stomped on by a 320-pound man?

McGwire's been grilled by the national media for what he MIGHT have done, wasn't voted into the Hall of Fame because he might have taken steroids and may never get in - although he deserves it just on the merit of saving baseball in the 1998 season - because he might have done something that wasn't illegal during the time he played.

Meanwhile, San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman tests positive for anabolic steroids, served a four-game suspension because he took a supplement that somehow contained the steroids, makes the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams and finishes third in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Hopefully the same principle that held true for McGwire holds up when in 10 or 15 years Merriman is for the Hall of Fame.

Every league deals with player arrests (Jackson firing a gun at a night club, the Florida Marlins Dontrelle Willis for DUI) but no one was as busy as the human resources office of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Of the Bengals 53 man roster, eight players were arrested in a year's span. That's 15 percent of the team.

Imagine if 15 percent of the people where you worked were arrested. My guess is there would be an outcry and jobs would be lost. Not in the NFL though.

Hey we didn't even mention Terrell Owens, Detroit Lions defensive line coach Joe Cullen going through the Wendy's drive-thru line naked or Lions offensive lineman Ross Verba for being arrested on a felony warrant for writing bad checks.

But it's OK. The NFL has the money, the PR team and the sponsors.

Kind of like the pretty girl on the playground, in the lunchroom and in the classroom.

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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