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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Great White Liar : What The Indictment of Roger Clemens Says About Us

 Article first published as Baseball's Big White Liar on Blogcritics.

Former baseball star Roger Clemens was indicted Thursday for lying to Congress about his use of Human Growth Hormone, but the real reasons behind this colossal waste of time and money have very little to do with the actual lie.

  The famous are often seen as different from all of us. We often alter our opinions and expectations based on the reasons for the notoriety. Actresses are generally portrayed as mentally vacant party animals and Formula 1 drivers as vain and distant. The excusability factor is completely variant based on a person's occupation, and baseball has a certain set of rules that the public sets because it is a sport that most of us have played. It is considered wholesome because children engage in it and those who play it for a living are expected to further the image of America's great pastime.

  When Roger Clemens entered the professional ranks, we were treated to not only strikeouts, but the image of the good old Texas hayseed who seemed sent from Heaven itself. His off-field antics were excused because he entertained us and gave us someone to cheer for on a weekly basis. We were more than willing to forget the business of baseball with every fastball. We forgot that Roger Clemens is a human being and instead viewed him as a product, a character as automatic as the ones in Playstation games. And we were wrong.

  Roger Clemens is most indeed a man, and one much like us. He is afflicted with the same insecurities that we all have. When his mind told him that he could lose his job he did whatever he could to avoid that happening, baseball had no rules against the use of pharmaceuticals at the time. He risked his health to give the fans exactly what they wanted and pad his bank account. To us, Roger Clemens played a wholesome game, but to him, he was fighting for a job.

After retiring, a man was called to account for his past. Roger Clemens could have told the truth about the past business of baseball, and he would have been scorned by each and every one of his peers. He was put in a position where he was required to defend himself, his former employers, and a business that he was still very much part of. He was called upon to defend the public image of private enterprise. But professional baseball, much like Roger's statements to congress, is very much a lie.

 Baseball has an idyllic facade that is carefully crafted by team owners to maximize financial gain. When you sign a contract a game becomes a job and paychecks replace pats on the back. Fans crowd the stands to view a product, not human beings. Every personal detail becomes scrutinized and perfection is expected in all facets of the player's existence. Baseball's cast of characters has been seemingly replaced by androids.

  In the days of Ruth and Cobb, eccentricities were a given. Mickey Mantle's favourite cocktails were published in magazines and Rollie Fingers' mustache had its own nickname. Drinking and carousing were all part of the good old boy image. Fans speculated about which pitchers threw spitballs and who might be stealing signs, but it was all very tongue-in-cheek. Players played pranks on each other, told goofy jokes to the press, and toyed with fans. Baseball was a game and players were the eternal boys in the world of men. Youthful exploits were celebrated instead of scorned. The product was fun, and it was delivered.

  At some point in time, the public role of the athlete changed. With powerful owners and massive contracts came the expectation of flawlessness. One mistake could and can destroy a career, and players are analyzed by green eyes and malcontents. Players are not watched for their successes, but for their shortcomings. Breaking the records of legends is seen as sacrilege and winning teams are often hated. The team environment has changed so that a few players have become more important than the collective. The game and its players have lost their humanness along the way.

  Perjury indictments are generally the result of injury. People are charged because their statements may have resulted in a wrongful conviction or acquittal or caused a serious financial mistake. Roger Clemens harmed nobody but himself and has been shamed duly for it. He is being held as an example for what is fundamentally wrong with a business that accepts no imperfections. We are angry that our view of sport has been tarnished, but what if hearings were convened for every instance of bad behaviour among athletes? What if every NHL player who used stimulants when they were permitted was called to testify before a panel? And what if every NBA player was forced to tell whether or not he smoked pot and every man indicted for every time he told someone he didn't smoke the demon weed?

  This is a massive waste of money. Yes, Roger Clemens should have invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges before, and he probably will in a future criminal case. This case is not about justice, but about scapegoating a man for what is wrong with an entire industry.
  Roger Clemens is not the cause of baseball's loss of innocence, but a product of it. While it may make us feel better to hold one or two men accountable for a regrettable period in baseball, it is not justified.

  Like the unrealistic image of athletes, we need to let Roger Clemens go. 

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