Photo: Wikimedia Commons
No one cared about the Roger Clemens trial.We were over the “did he or didn’t he” back-and-forth between Clemens and his trainers.
We accepted the tainted nature of the steroids era.
We learned to ignore all sports stories that contained the words “circuit court” and “jury selection”.
But long after we had come to terms with steroids and demythologized baseball players, the trial went on.
The only people who cared were Clemens, the U.S. government, and the old men at the New York Daily News.
So why did the government spend time and effort to prosecute a high-profile athlete like Clemens?
Starting with an absurd batch of congressional hearings in 2005, the U.S. government made the decision to concern itself with steroids in baseball.
There’s multiple theories for why Congress did this.
- It was looking to boost its popularity by tapping into the public outrage over steroids.
- It saw steroid use as a national health issue, especially among high school kids.
- Congressmen are all old fart baseball fans who wax poetic about the days when the game was “pure”.
But no matter the reason, once the government decided that they were going to get involved with cheating in baseball, they were stuck. They locked themselves into a series of wasteful trials and hearings that had little effect and no purpose beyond publicly shaming steroids abusers.
From the beginning, the pursuit of Clemens and others was never really about upholding the rule of law. It was about restoring the illusion of order — it was an expensive attempt to assert the notion that cheaters never prosper in our society.
Clemens was being formally charged with perjury, but he was really being prosecuted to prove a social point. He made millions of dollars cheating, and disgraced the game in the process. What he did was wrong and distasteful. But, it wasn’t a crime.
To make things worse, the great injustice that Clemens allegedly committed by using steroids seems decidedly less offensive in retrospect.
There was a time when people thought steroid abuse was a rare, completely unfair, and a scourge to the sport. But now, after the better part of a decade, it appears that tons of players were taking steroids, some were more affected than others, and the era itself is just another chapter in baseball’s complicated history.
But due to the plodding nature of our legal system, the litigation went on. The trail played itself out in a time far removed from the social climate in which the pursuit began. And everyone involved looked as silly as the prosecutors whose ineptitude mercifully led to the mistrial.
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