On June 18, the New York Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-2. That same day in Washington, D.C., former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens beat the federal government. After five years, and despite the tireless efforts of 93 deputized bureaucrats and $3 million in taxpayer sweat, Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges that stemmed from his testimony about steroid use.
The Not Guilty verdict, which acquitted Clemens of all six charges in his long-running federal perjury trial, came 14 months after MLB home run king Barry Bonds was absolved of all but one of the charges filed against him in a similar show of Justice Department grandstanding. Bonds was found guilty of obstructing justice, and sentenced to a measly 30 days house arrest.
The Bonds' case, much like Clemens’, was viewed by legal analysts as paper thin and largely dependent on the testimony of witnesses who were unwilling to take the stand. Yet at the insistence of President George W. Bush, the DOJ made policing pro baseball an expensive and pointless priority.
Nanny that he was, Bush cited the steroid issue in his 2004 State of The Union address. “The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message," the president said. "That there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character.” Bush would go on to call on owners, coaches, and players to “get tough and to get rid of steroids now.”
At the time, fans raised their fist in agreement. Eight years later, baseball watchers and liberty lovers alike are damn tired of the government's steroid witchhunt.
“What a waste. I was thinking about it after all this time, what a waste of resources,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly told the Associated Press following the Clemens' verdict. “Then you hear about teachers who don’t have paper and pencils for kids, and it seems like what a waste. Really, I don’t think anybody cares. At this point nobody cares, it’s like, ‘So long.’”
Washington-based defense attorney, and former counsel to the House of Representatives, Stanley Brand echoed those same sentiments in a post-verdict interview with the AP. “It was a tremendous waste of federal resources. The juries that acquitted these people (Clemens and Bonds) weren’t persuaded by any of this.”
Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins brought the government’s glaring overreach into sharp focus. “The miscarriage of justice is not that Clemens may have gotten away with something, but that vindictive government functionaries can spend five years trying to jail someone for a crime without adequate evidence. That’s far more dangerous than any syringe Clemens may have used. I care only minimally what Clemens injected in his butt—his butt is his personal business. But I do care that a government cowboy can put his boot on Clemens’ front porch just because he doesn’t like the look of his face. Because he thinks Clemens did something ‘dirty.’ Because he feels Clemens doesn’t meet his personal definition of a ‘clean sport.’”
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, are still slouching around a darkened ballpark.
“Lying to Congress is a serious matter,” said Ty Cobb, former coordinator of the Justice Department’s Mid-Atlantic organized crime and drug enforcement task force. “Lying to a grand jury is a serious matter, and the Justice Department should pursue those crimes without fear of losing when they think they occurred.”
Yet critics of Washington's steroid witch hunt aren't thumbing their noses at the rule of law, they're simply asking Washington to prioritize its resources toward crimes that cause actual harm. After all, the federal government does not volunteer, nor impose, its resources to police the use of Adderall, a drug many scholarship-wielding students consider to be “performance enhancing,” across a national network that includes over 600 public colleges and universities.
What could possibly justify the government assuming the role of parent and policeman, and at such a cost, to an institution as inconsequential to the preservation of civility as Major League Baseball? With America drowning in red ink, how could Cobb possibly believe that “the Justice Department should pursue those cases without fear of losing”? And what evidence is there to support the idea that the MLB cannot police itself?
Whether the Clemens’ acquittal marks the end of the government’s involvement in policing drug abuse in pro sports is yet to be seen. Luckily, baseball fans don't have to wait for federal permission to play ball.
Rob Bibelhauser is a freelance writer and full-time sports nut. Follow him on Twitter.