Odds Without Ends

“Baseball? Doesn’t the government have anything better to do than focus on Baseball?”

This was one of the many questions I asked myself on Dec. 13, a day that I remember as being more than eventful for the Torch.
First, the government officially released the Mitchell Report, a 400-page document that accused various MLB players, such as Roger Clemens, of having taken steroids. Key evidence in the report came from Brian McNamee, a former trainer of Clemens and also a former St. John’s student and professor.

Second, I received an e-mail from Journalism chair Dr. Roger V. Wetherington, informing me that the steroid allegations, and McNamee’s involvement, was a “wonderful scoop” and a story that must be put “on the Web site as soon as possible.”

I chose not to run an article on the Mitchell Report back in December, since we were unable to obtain any original information on the story.

However, Dr. Wetherington was certainly right – the whole Clemens ordeal is an especially noteworthy story. But why?
As far as I’m concerned, its notoriety has nothing to do with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Bud Selig, or even St. John’s own Brian McNamee. Rather, if anything, the entire fiasco simply serves as a clear-cut example of how ineffective government agencies have become as of late.

The one in question this time is the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has existed in varying forms since 1816. The committee, comprised of various congressmen, have dealt with fairly meaningful issues in the recent past, such as September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the validity of information that led to the war in Iraq, and even the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.

So, after having investigated some fairly important issues in the last 15 years or so, what leads the committee to Roger Clemens?

In essence, the committee is trying to make an example of Clemens and the rest of the MLB players accused in the Mitchell Report. But in practice, the hearing is nothing more than a circus.

First, and most notably, the Mitchell Report itself is simply a collection of baseless accusations, indicating that Clemens may have taken HGH (human growth hormone) at some point between 1999 and 2007. It also accuses Clemens’s wife of having received an injection prior to a Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition photo shoot.

There is no hard evidence to prove any of these accusations; instead, the entire hearing is simply a “he said, she said” case, nearly impossible to resolve. Sure, it seems that Roger Clemens probably took steroids, but how can McNamee, who has lied about steroid injections in the past, necessarily be trusted?

Congressmen on the committee, oddly enough, seem split on the issue according to party lines. Republicans, such as Representative Dan Burton, were pretty lenient with Clemens. Burton bashed McNamee, noting how he had revised his testimony repeatedly, even going so far as to call McNamee’s account “disgusting.”

Meanwhile, other congressmen, such as Representative William Lacy Clay, actually went so far as to ask Clemens which uniform he’d wear into the Hall of Fame.

What type of progress was made with questioning like that?

Amidst the garbage questions, Clemens and McNamee were eventually able to state their cases. But has any progress truly been made? Absolutely not.

Some have argued that by throwing dirt on Clemens’ reputation, the committee is exposing the hazards of using performance enhancers and dissuading younger athletes from using them.

This is, undoubtedly, a serious concern. After all, the committee’s own Web site notes that it is estimated over half a million teenagers take some form of performance enhancers.

But let’s face it: what will smearing one superstar’s reputation really do to stop younger athletes from wanting to take steroids in order to get into a good college or make a professional team?

The government needs to work more closely with professional sports – the MLB, the NBA, the NFL – in order to make any sort of meaningful reform in regards to testing policies. And, more importantly, better education on the subject is needed on the high school and college level to curb steroid use where it is most harmful.
So why are congressmen taking time out of their busy schedules to ruin the reputation of one pitcher? Beats me.

One thing, however, is certain: Dr. Wetherington’s remark that this story is a “wonderful scoop” is entirely accurate, but not because there’s anything meaningful going on.

Instead, it’s a great story for all the wrong reasons.