Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Clemens verdict

Roger Clemens faces the media after Monday's verdict.
I am not a member of The Free Press editorial board. I once was, but that was many years and several publishers ago. But on occasion the bosses ask me to contribute. And being an opinionated cuss, I generally oblige.

The editorials themselves -- unsigned opinion pieces -- are supposed to reflect the thinking of the editorial board, not merely that of one member, so it's not unheard of for my offerings to be rejected, revised or reversed. Which is fine; it's not my name on the thing.

All this is preamble to what follows: my draft of an editorial on the Roger Clemens verdict. The editorial is to run in today's Free Press. I didn't work Tuesday, so I don't know how much, if at all, it was revised. What's here is my opinion; what appears on the Opinions page may be the same as this, or it may be different. Either way, there's no plagiarism involved.


As a pitcher of baseballs, Roger Clemens had few if any peers; as a citizen, he has many. A federal jury of those peers on Monday decided against convicting the seven-time Cy Young Award winner of perjury for telling a congressional committee that he had never used performance-enhancing drugs.

That acquittal largely mirrored last summer's verdict in the Barry Bonds perjury case. Bonds -- holder of the single-season and career home run records, among other records -- was acquitted of perjury in his testimony to a grand jury that was investigating a PED lab. (Bonds, unlike Clemens, was convicted on a lesser count.)

Then we have the multi-year, multi-nation, cross-continent investigation into bicycling legend Lance Armstrong, which was concluded recently without charges.

These outcomes do not speak well of the time, effort, talent and resources the Department of Justice has poured over the past decade into the legal prosecution, or persecution, of athletes suspected of using PEDs.

Bonds and Clemens were established superstars beginning the inevitable decline of age when they suddenly experienced new heights of accomplishment in their late 30s. Both insisted that it was their work and skills that revitalized their careers. Not everybody believed them, in part because the widespread use of PEDs throughout baseball was an open secret in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It seems noteworthy that neither Bonds nor Clemens was actually charged with using performance-enhancers. They were instead charged with lying about it.

This begs the question: If using steroids (or human growth hormone, or EPO, or any other substance the athlete turns to to get bigger-stronger-faster) is so vile an act that it serves the public interest to spend literally millions of dollars taking the athlete to court, why not charge him with the actual act?

And if the actual act is not a crime, or too insignificant to justify prosecuting, then why go after the athlete for denying it?

The courts are meant to deal with legal violations, not ethical ones. It would behoove prosecutors to remember that.

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