Sports

Picking Splinters: Fortune & Glory

More than two and a half years ago Roger Clemens sat in congressional chambers and swore up and down that no way, no how did he use performance-enhancing substances. Oops.

Last week Clemens was indicted on six-counts that included obstruction of a congressional inquiry and perjury charges. He now faces a maximum of 30 years in prison — though federal guidelines place the penalty between 15-21 months – and a $1.5 million fine.

I wonder if Clemens feels that combination of money and imprisonment is worth the pride he was hellbent on defending. After all, that must be why he voluntarily came before congress to testify against charges from former trainer Brian McNamee — and sited in the Mitchell Report — that Clemens used steroids and HGH. A lot of ink has been spilled on the subject already, most of it by writers who know Clemens far better than I. So allow me to speak on a slightly different subject, one presented by Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

Waxman stated that the Clemens indictment will “help end the use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs in professional sports.” That is patently false.

This indictment has nothing to do with steroid use. It has nothing to do with professional sports. It’s simply about lying to Congress while under oath. Period.

I’m sure Rep. Waxman would say I’m taking this out of context. And I agree that his other statement at the time — “when a witness, such as Roger Clemens, lies … he should be held accountable” – was spot on. But if he thinks that the indictment of Clemens will stop one Major League player from using performance-enhancing drugs, or even one high school athlete from following his lead, he’s sadly mistaken.

If the hubris-rich tale of Roger Clemens and his fellow Mitchell Report miscreants has taught us anything, it’s about the motivation of such players. Sometimes it’s about money. Moreso, it’s about glory.

Way back in this story’s infancy it was reported that Barry Bonds first pursued using steroids while watching the chemically-enhanced Mark McGwire seize the single-season home run record in 1998. The story, as told in the renowned book, “Game of Shadows”, says that Bonds would rail on both McGwire and Sosa to those close to him. Shortly afterwards Bonds began to pattern his game after the sluggers, basing his hitting approach around pure power – and the drugs the duo used to achieve their remarkable strength.

Meanwhile Clemens followed a slightly different path on the opposite coast. In his final four seasons in Boston, Roger Clemens averaged just 10 wins a year. That was a huge dip from the 19.4 wins per season he averaged from 1986-92. Meanwhile, hitters’ OPS against Clemens spiked, reaching .740 in 1995, his highest mark to date and 31 points higher than his rookie season.

The Red Sox were no longer interested in his services, and Clemens needed an edge to keep his career at a high level. Two Cy Young awards later, the one-time ace had regained his form and continued to solidify his Hall-of-Fame career. At least until the release of the Mitchell Report.

Clemens is no fool. He saw the indelible stain that besmirched other players tagged by steroid allegations. He saw McGwire — and his 583 home runs — turned away from the Hall of Fame. He knew that the stigma alone was enough to undo his entire career’s worth of work.

And so he marched off to Capitol Hill. And so he testified. And so he may have lied. And now he may go to prison. All to protect his legacy.

That’s what it’s about for those who use performance enhancing drugs. It’s about being the best. It’s about leaving a mark. It’s about making more money than you ever thought possible. Lying to congress? That’s just a bi-product.

If convicted, Clemens won’t go to jail for drug use. He’ll go for lying under oath.

If you want to eliminate steroids from sports, make it clear that using such substances will erase any legacy an athlete has. Crack down where it counts. We’ve already seen a big reduction in offenders in Major League Baseball. And new testing for HGH, a certain topic for the next collective bargaining agreement, will help even more. Convicting Roger Clemens? Well, maybe that will make the next congressional witness think twice before altering his or her story. And it might help some politicians get camera time before mid-term elections. But if you want to eliminate drugs from sports, there are far better ways to go about it.