Turns out some members of Congress didn't believe Roger Clemens
any more than the rest of us.
But what makes it a teachable moment is they did something about
it. The lesson is that if you lie to enough people, eventually
someone will take it personally. The drawback is that even if he
winds up behind bars, it won't change a thing.
Clemens is like plenty of other larger-than-life athletes and
celebrities. So accustomed to knocking people down, those lawmakers
sitting elbow to elbow in a committee hearing room some 30 months
ago looked like just another slap-hitting lineup to Clemens. And he
was at least half-right.
Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform
Committee, led by current ranking member Darrell Issa of
California, spent much of their energy and most of their allotted
time that day mocking Clemens' accuser and former personal trainer,
"Shame on you," Issa said at the end of one contentious exchange
— and that was soon after his colleague, Chris Shays of
Connecticut, called McNamee a cheat, a liar and just for good
measure "a drug dealer."
So although Clemens isn't the only one who said something
regrettable that day, he's the one who's going to pay.
He faces up to five years in prison on each of six charges and a
$1.5 million fine. His reputation is already shot, he rarely turns
up in public, and he's already transferred enough personal wealth
to his country lawyer, Rusty Hardin, to have a set of chairs named
after him at a law school.
Speaking of which: Whether Hardin was truly advising his client
or just rubber-stamping Clemens' hare-brained schemes, his legal
strategy should become a case study.
In short order, Clemens broadcast a secretly recorded phone
conversation with McNamee that made him sound like a mob enforcer,
dared Congress to make a federal case out of it, and doubled down
by insisting everybody else either "misheard" or "misremembered"
what he said and did. Then they filed a defamation lawsuit, only to
jog McNamee's memory about a few syringes and bandages he'd stashed
away with — he claims — Clemens' DNA all over them.
Since things can only get worse for Clemens, and keeping in mind
that Barry Bonds' latest prosecution still looms, it's worth asking
how much more good money the feds should be throwing after the bad.
If the goal is to rid sports of cheaters, it's just not going to
Clemens certainly took it to another level by lying to Congress.
But as Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, another Republican member of
the committee pointed out that day, "If we called everyone in
sports accused of using steroids before this committee, we'd have
to shut this place down. That's not our role in this process, and I
hope this show trial teaches us that very important lesson."
Unless Clemens gets smart and decides to cut his losses, there's
going to be another, even more expensive show trial, this time in
federal court. Even if the government wins on every count, the
public interest is hardly served by providing three squares and a
scratchy new home uniform to a millionaire ballplayer.
What prosecutors should do instead is offer Clemens a plea deal
he can't resist, but make it prohibitively expensive. We came up
with a proposal two weeks after his appearance before Congress,
right around the time committee members called in the FBI to sort
out the "he-said, he-said" testimony.
Let some government accountant come up with a spreadsheet
breaking out how much of Clemens' earnings can be tied to his use
of performance-enhancers. Then double it, plow the money back into
testing, research and a smart ad campaign against PED use, and
include a few hundred hours of community service.
Clemens isn't the first ballplayer to lie, nor will he be the
last. But the most efficient way to get the truth out is turning
him into a cautionary tale about how much cheaper it turns out to
be sooner rather than later.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org