Friday, February 29, 2008

Roger Clemens Learns the Timeless Lesson: It's Not the Crime, it's the Coverup

You would think that everyone would have learned the lesson decades ago when the Watergate scandal brought down President Richard Nixon, who just a few years earlier had won reelection by a landslide margin: the American public has demonstrated on many occasions that it will forgive just about any transgression if the person who committed it apologizes and truly seems to be contrite--but if a public figure lies and steadfastly denies that he did anything wrong then those falsehoods almost inevitably bring him down. After Jason Giambi was exposed as a steroids user, a lot of criticism and hostility were directed toward him but he apologized and the matter seems to be largely forgotten; few people are saying that he should forfeit his 2000 AL MVP to second place finisher Frank Thomas (I actually think that he should be stripped of that honor in similar fashion to how track and field authorities stripped Marion Jones of her medals but I am less forgiving than the general public). The funny thing is that Giambi's apology was weak and vague and never even mentioned the word "steroids" but people still forgave him.

When the Mitchell Report first came out, Roger Clemens should have done a "Giambi." Like Giambi, Clemens is probably too arrogant to ever directly admit to using steroids but if Clemens had simply issued some kind of apology then his reputation would not be in its current Pete Rose death spiral. Think about the difference between Clemens and his friend/teammate Andy Pettitte: Brian McNamee testified under oath that he personally supplied illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to both Pettitte and Clemens. Pettitte immediately admitted his PED use and no one is investigating him; he probably won't even be punished, even though he has hardly come clean completely about all of the circumstances surrounding his PED use (he did not initially admit to getting HGH from his father in addition to getting HGH from McNamee and I highly doubt that Pettitte's HGH use was as limited as he wants us to believe). Pettitte is literally a criminal and a cheater and yet he has emerged from this situation as some kind of paragon of integrity. Clemens is a bigger star than Pettitte and would have probably been subjected to harsher scrutiny but if MLB is not going after Giambi's MVP then I doubt that there would have been much effort made to go after Clemens' honors if he had not arrogantly and foolishly decided to defiantly proclaim his complete innocence.

Instead, Clemens has apparently lied under oath about matters great (illegal drug use) and small (attending a party at Jose Canseco's house), not only gravely damaging his reputation but very possibly setting himself up to serve time in jail for perjury. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has formally requested that the Justice Department investigate whether Clemens lied during his testimony to that body. Committee chairman Henry Waxman bluntly said, "We didn't think Clemens was telling the truth."

Clemens could have avoided this mess by simply apologizing. In fact, even saying nothing at all would have been preferable to issuing vehement denials that are highly implausible. Committee member Tom Davis recently said, "If Clemens had not said anything when (the Mitchell Report was released) and he was one of 80 or 90 other guys, nobody would have cared, really. But he came forward with such strong statements to the contrary. This gives me no joy at all. I would have liked to (have) punted on this."

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