I haven’t discussed sports much in this blog, but I was flabbergasted yesterday to learn that Roger Clemens (the “Rocket”) had been acquitted on all charges of lying to Congress. The case was based on an appearance Clemens made before a congressional committee in which he categorically denied using illegal performance enhancing drugs. There was considerable evidence that Clemens had used such drugs, but federal prosecutors who brought him to trial for lying to Congress (perjury) were unable to convince a jury, so Clemens is now a free man rather than a convicted felon. I find this deeply dissatisfying, almost disturbing, for two reasons:
First, many who have been commenting on this believe the feds “overreached” by prosecuting Clemens in the first place. (This is part of the general background din of accusations of “overreach” in government that are largely partisan political attacks.) This theory says, so what if he lied to Congress? He shouldn’t be prosecuted for this, and he certainly should not go to prison. And everyone was using steroids, so what’s the big deal? To those who defend this line of thinking let me say that this was not about the crime of using illegal steroids or HGH. It was about defiantly lying to Congress. I don’t care if Republicans or Democrats are in control, you cannot tolerate lying to Congress. This whacks at the heart of the legal system and American democracy. If there are acceptable ways to perjure oneself, American justice is a chimera. And to those who think this is “overreach,” I hope everyone suspected of lying to Congress is prosecuted, even if a conviction is not obtained.
Second, this all seems highly ironic to me in the current climate of anti-bullying legislation. Roger Clemens was called a “fierce competitor” in his time, but let’s be honest: he was a bully on the mound. I can’t help but remember my Seattle Mariners playing the Yankees in the 2000 playoffs and seeing the Rocket pitch to Alex Rodriguez, then the star of the Mariners (and later an admitted steroid user). Clemens threw right at A-Rod’s head on his first pitch, causing him to hit the deck. A-Rod looked at the umpire, expecting a warning or something, but the ump looked away and stuck his hands in his pockets. The next pitch was in almost the same place, aimed directly at A-Rod’s head and causing him to fall flat to the ground. The umpire again did nothing and even seemed to chastise A-Rod to get back in the batter’s box. The camera showed a grim Clemens, the fierce competitor/bully glaring from the pitcher’s mound. And I knew the game was over, the series was over. Clemens was going to be allowed to use his bullying tactics and everyone on the Mariners knew the umpires were not going to stop him or protect them. The bully had won.
This seemed to me to be partly what happened in the federal courtroom this year. The government’s chief witness, Brian McNamee, was”grilled” by Clemens’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, for fifteen hours over four days. How this was allowed to happen, I can’t imagine, but it was a systematic attack on the man’s credibility and every piece of testimony he had offered against Clemens. It was like four days of fastballs aimed at his head.
The final verdict on this may rest on the voters for baseball’s Hall of Fame. There are early indications that Clemens will join the club of Pete Rose, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Raphael Palmeiro, and Barry Bonds as MLB players with great careers and stats, but who probably will not be allowed into the Hall of Fame. Justice sometimes comes in unlikely places.
Nebraska Christian College