Leave Roger Clemens Alone (and Vote Braun!)

June 29, 2012 | Posted by Enrique

Of all the ways government officials interfere with things that are none of their business, attempts to regulate sports are among the most viscerally appalling. Whether it’s doling out welfare for the rich in the form of stadium subsidies, threatening to regulate the format of the college football championship, or banning certain sports altogether, nothing good happens when government busybodies involve themselves in sports.

Last week, some small measure of justice was served when attempts to convict former pitcher Roger Clemens of perjury fell short. After a five-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice failed to prove Clemens lied about taking performance-enhancing drugs. Even if the outcome was right, it’s horrifying that the federal government would target one man in this way – and it’s something that likely would not have happened if not for the American public’s conflicted attitude about “cheating” in professional sports.

The story so far…

Fun fact: I own this baseball card

For 24 years, Roger Clemens was one of the most dominating starting pitchers in baseball. Clemens has a career ERA of 3.12, 118 complete games, 46 shutouts, 354 wins, and 4672 strikeouts.

Clemens is also widely suspected of having taken steroids, which some people think is a very, very bad thing. Federal prosecutors thought it was so bad, they charged Clemens with two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements, and one count of obstructing Congress for denying that he used steroids or human growth hormone at a 2008 hearing.

Leaving aside the fact that obstructing Congress should be every patriotic American’s God-given right, Clemens was acquitted on all charges last week. The jury needed less than 10 hours to deliberate following a 10-week trial and a five-year investigation. Not only did the jury find the government’s case lacking, at least one of them said the whole prosecution was inappropriate:

Juror 13, political activist Joyce Robinson-Paul, told the Daily News after the verdict Monday that she and her peers “didn’t see anything to be prosecuted” in the government’s case that Clemens lied to Congress about doping.

“You have these cutthroat thieves, murderers, drug dealers and drug addicts and you decide to go after somebody who had a reputation for trying to do his best and be the best that he can be, and you attack him,” Robinson-Paul told The News. […]

According to Clemens’ chief defense lawyer, Rusty Hardin, jurors he spoke to after the verdict said they, too, disliked the idea of Congress calling Clemens to testify in the first place, the signature event that led to Clemens being tried on six counts of perjury and obstruction.

It’s good to know there are some Americans out there that recognize that the government going after individual professional athletes for “cheating” is a gross abuse of power – and Clemens is fortunate that at least one of them was on his jury.

There are plenty of Americans who are not so reasonable. A lot of the commentary following Clemens acquittal amounted to smug hand-wringing by self-appointed arbiters of fairness and decency. Many sportswriters think it’s their job to remind us that Clemens’ acquittal doesn’t mean he’s not almost definitely a cheater anyway, so nyah-nyah-nyah. Here’s a particularly clownish example by columnist Mike Wise:

If I ever lie to Congress about having syringes of human growth hormone injected into my bloodstream, I hope my case is heard in the District of Columbia by a group of jurors I can wink and smile at, people who know my face and what I’ve accomplished in my career, and who are clearly impressed that I am much more famous than they are.

If I ever lie to Congress about having a low-life drug mule puncture my buttocks with performance-enhancing drugs, I hope I have enough money to be represented by a homespun slick lawyer named Rusty, who cross-examines that lowlife whom I employed, and puts enough doubt into the people impressed they get to sit within a few feet of me. […]

For many like me, Monday’s verdict won’t restore that workmanlike image for Clemens. For us, all it proved was that rich, arrogant athletes with enough money are able to hire the best lawyers to get them off. Happens every day in America, where the only places fairness seemed to exist were our ballfields and stadiums.

Keep in mind, this kind of overwrought reaction is not uncommon among sportswriters even though it’s never been proved that Clemens takes steroids. Based on my analysis, this kind of melodramatic sentiment is based on a couple of factors. First, a lot of sportswriters are assholes (and aren’t we all?).

Second, a lot of folks think taking steroids clearly give athletes an unfair advantage. But how sure are we about that? What do we know about steroids really? According to Wikipedia’s page on the subject (which we have no reason to think is inaccurate), anabolic steroids are artificial testosterone supplements that build muscles. Steroids also have medical uses, such as helping people recover from injuries, or treating cancer and AIDS.

As far as I know, there’s no research that says steroids help hitters pick up the spin on a slider. Steroids won’t help a pitcher locate a fastball, or affect the break of a curveball. If a hitter does make contact, the ball might conceivably fly a little farther than it might have, but steroids aren’t going to help the hitter make contact, change the flight of a line drive, or alter the path of a ground ball. Despite what you may have heard, there is little evidence that steroids could turn a slap hitter into a slugger.

If you look at the players named in the Mitchell Report a few years ago, most of them are athletes of fairly modest accomplishment. Steroids clearly didn’t turn guys like Gregg Zaun or Fernando Vina into power threats. In the absence of compelling evidence that steroids actually improve performance, why does anyone consider it equivalent to cheating?

At most, steroids can help athletes recover from injury faster than they otherwise might, or help them extend their careers. If an athlete uses steroids for those purposes, who would get all huffy about it? When a pitcher blows out the tendons in his arm, most fans don’t object to him having Tommy John surgery to prolong his career. To object to a player using steroids for the same reason is an arbitrary distinction.

Now that the government has failed to make an example of Roger Clemens, hopefully these wasteful prosecutions of high-profile athletes will stop, particularly since the public at large no longer seems as self-righteous about performance-enhancing drugs as it once did. There will always be Mike Wises in the media to remind us how badly our heroes have failed us, but I get the sense that most sports fans have lightened up.

When my hometown hero Ryan Braun failed a drug test last year, it looked like his career and public perception was in dire straits. But halfway through the 2012 season, most folks don’t appear to be up in arms about Braun. I watch every Brewers game, and the reaction of opposing teams’ fans has been pretty muted (except in Matt Kemp’s Los Angeles, where the Brewers swept the Dodgers in a four-game series). In fact, it appears Braun is going to be voted as an All-Star Game starter for the fifth consecutive year.

If much of the public has turned the page on steroids, hopefully that means government busybodies won’t have any reason to abuse their power and try to make examples of individual athletes. If Roger Clemens is an example of anything, it’s that an overzealous government can ruin your life and then walk away without even commenting to the press. We should keep that in mind whenever prosecutors make a big public deal about using their power to send messages.

And don’t forget, you’ve still got until the end of Thursday to vote for the All-Star Game. If Ryan Braun is good enough for Shawn Michaels, he’s good enough to represent the National League.

Unimpeachable character


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