Why the Acquittal of Roger Clemens Should Mean the End of Washington's Steroid Witch Hunt

Sorry, Ty Cobb, but it's time for you to stop making players and fans miserable.


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

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  1. "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.

    How about lying from Congress, Ty Cobb? (If that is your real name.)

    Clemens was a classic make work project. I'm beginning to suspect this country has too many federal prosecutors.

  2. We the jury find the defendant none of the government's goddamned business.

  3. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, is not a strategy.

  4. Ty Cobb

    Seriously? Like Detroit doesn't already have a bad enough image reality, you gotta go besmirching our sports heros.

  5. The real Ty Cobb was a horrible person,as was Babe Ruth.Any way,why not take drugs that will heal you faster and make you better able to prolong your career through a 162 game season,or 16 game football season.Average folks take these drugs to heal or keep muscle mass and keep a hard on all the time and it's perfectly legal.I was one given steroids to heal a torn rotator cuff.Hurt it building a deck.

    1. 1) Ty Cobb was a total racist, among other things. Great ball player, but a real prick.
      2) I gotta say. teh steroids from my doctor, when I've needed them, make me heal faster AND - bonus - you breathe, like, 100 times better. It's like you're turbocharged.

      Love 'em. Of course, I never got enough to get The Incredible Hulkness or break out in acne or get Roid Rage?, so that's an opportunity for me in the future.

      1. Ty Cobb also sharpened his spikes and tried to cut other players.There's also the incident of him going in the stands to fight.Much of this crap is sold by 'sports writers' who want to keep the games 'pure')except replay) that can't play the games themselves.I give you Skip 'my thought are holy' Bayless

        1. I like that he sharpened his spikes.

          The racism? Not so much.

        2. The fan he went into the stands to fight in that incident also had no hands. So yeah, Ty Cobb beat up cripples, and minorities...

          Although, Bill James did write a very interesting piece in his 2002 Baseball Abstract in which he talks about how we tend to have an unduly harsh view of Cobb because we're judging him from the wrong side of history.

          1. James has a point regarding context. Cobb was a product of his time and environment. Virtually everything written about him portrays Cobb as a first-class horse's ass. Great player, lousy human being.

      2. Were they anabolic steroids or cortico steroids? A steroid is simply a hormone, that doesn't signify what hormone it is.

        On top of that only 5% of users display increased aggression on anabolic's to begin with and most of the side effects are dose dependent. Meaning those side effects demonized by anti steroid people have a very small chance of manifesting in therapeutic or clinical usage. As "amazing" as it seems there will be a profound difference between a user taking sub 200mg of test a week an those taking 400-1000mg a week. I know it's surprising.

        1. anabolics and the proof of that is in pictures. See Clemens near the end of his BoSox career and compare that to his Toronto/Yankees days. I have been around gyms and weights for a long time; NO ONE puts on that much mass at that age. Not naturally.

          In addition to steroids, there is HGH, which allows you to recover faster from workouts and heal faster from injury. It is its own type of fountain-of-youth. The combination of HGH and steroids has an anabolic effect on the body.

          None of this is to criticize what Clemens did or to side with the govt. This was the very definition of waste of time and money. The biggest damage was the Clemens' reputation and credibility. He is now like Bonds - an HOF player before using chemicals to extend his career, and now a pariah of sorts because of it. Athletes have always sought an edge over competitors; these substances are simply the evolution of that.

          1. I was replying to Almanian's post that detailed a personal experience, not MLB players clear use of AAS and HGH.

  6. 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."

  7. A lot of research suggests that these hormones can increase the quality of your life as you age. I really don't think they are all that harmful. Besides I'd rather see a jacked up Olympic sprinter who can out run a horse or throw a shot put over a small building.

  8. On a side note has anyone here watched Bigger, Stronger, Faster? Great doc on steroid use. I'm assuming Warty's seen it.

  9. While I agree that in general the government is far to 'concerned' with drugs, my Lady has been fighting back after being over-prescribed steroids and they are nasty drugs with a wide range of side-effects and withdrawal effects .... most of them thoroughly unpleasant. I don't want to see more show trials or (God forbid) upped enforcement, but I seriously believe that those of my fellow posters who are downplaying how dangerous steroids are are badly mistaken.

    1. The dangers associated with healthy adult males are totally different than those associated with children or women. Beyond that, as I've pointed out above, "steroids" is simply a term for hormones, and does not denote anabolic steroid, ie derivatives of testosterone. The vast majority of steroids prescribed by doctors are cortico-steroids which have different and often worse side effects than testosterone. "Steroid have bad side effects." is simply a blanket statement with no actual meaning as it covers a large range of hormones, with different side effect for different populations.

      1. If you want to have a good (unintentional) laugh, get a copy of the film Bigger Than Life. (It's gotten a DVD release since I posted about it.)

        James Mason plays a man who gets prescribed the "wonder drug" cortisone for his heart ailment, and it turns him into a delusional Jesus freak who tries to kill his son!

      2. you might as well say "Pain Killers" are really bad and talk up all the effects of the worst in that group when someone mentions one of the safer ones

    2. steroids are meant to be taken in cycles - you are on for a period of time then off for a period. Unfortunately, they are abused by the classic American mentality involving most things: if one unit is good, then three units must be great. No, there is reason that the scrip calls for one unit.

      Like any drug, they can be dangerous when mis-used. Just look at modern-day bodybuilding; guys look cartoonish but some are dying at young ages or encountering problems most likely associated with their regimens. Again, it is possible to have too much of a thing.

  10. Considering this headline, I do not think that steroid investigations will disappear any time soon.

  11. Maskes sense to me dude. Wow.

  12. Granted that most sportswriters and fans alike get too little exercise, there is such a thing as getting too much. Lots of NFL players drop dead in their forties, and in most cases it's not from using drugs.

    The point being, pro athletes, even the ones who follow the rules, sacrifice their health and a big chunk of their life expectancy in order to have the lifestyle, the money, and the fame that goes with being a winner. (For that matter, so do a huge number of wanna-bes who don't make the pros or don't last long as pros.)

    If the law isn't going to ban athletes from taking those risks, why should it concern itself with the (only modestly greater) risks of using steroids and other drugs? I see no real difference.

    1. the law does ban the taking of those drugs. The case against Clemens fell largely because the jury chose to see his trainer, Brian McNamee, as a no-account drug pusher rather than someone providing a product that the client wanted and paid for. Clemens' "guilt" is obvious; just look at before/after photos.

      The bigger question around here would be, should the state have the authority to ban these substances? A free person living in a free society should be able to ingest whatever the hell s/he wants, so long as the rights of others are not violated.

      We can debate whether using PEDs is smart, but this case had nothing to do with that. Players who use these substances do so for exactly the reasons you cited - money, lifestyle - because they know the loss of their job is one injury, or one bigger-faster-stronger player away from being lost.

  13. Clemens and Bonds were charged with perjury and lying to a grand jury. Those are serious charges, and if they had been true (the juries found that they were not) would merit punishment. But the more important issue is why the questions which elicited the (allegedly) false testimony were asked in the first place. Congress had no business calling Clemens to testify and grilling him on drug usage. It was pure political theater: posturing by preening prima donnas seeking a national stage rather than doing something meaningful or useful.

    Personally, I believe that both men uses performance-enhancing drugs, but so what? It's none of my business and, more importantly, none of Congress'. I celebrated the acquittals, and hope that Bibelhauser is correct that they will mark the end of this particular species of federal adventuring.

  14. All's fair in love and the War on Hunky-ness.

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