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Impotent ’Roid Rage

Why Rocket hearings didn’t take off.

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REPRESENTATIVE TOM DAVIS: “Mr. Clemens, do you recall bleeding through your pants in 2001?”
ROGER CLEMENS: “I do not.”

The interesting thing is not that America’s politicians have no more important matters to consider than Roger Clemens’s gluteal leakage. It’s that the endless he-said-he-said of Clemens versus McNamee on Wednesday revealed just how far off course the ongoing steroids “investigation” has veered. What was initially billed as a Great Attempt to Get to the Bottom of Steroids in Baseball became, essentially, Congress mediating the divorce between a ballplayer and his trainer.

Remember the famous Mark McGwire congressional hearings a few years ago? The names made the headlines, but the real purpose of the exercise was, ostensibly, to keep steroids from kids. (Before the players spoke, a man whose son killed himself testified.) Then, steroids were seen as a problem to be solved, a problem that required intervention by Congress. This time, the testimony existed only to make a famous pitcher look like an idiot on national television. (Clemens was more than happy to help in the cause, alternating between barely disguised fury and slack-jawed befuddlement.) If you disliked the Rocket, it was unmissable; if you loved him, you probably don’t as much anymore.

But with all respect to the distinguished members of the United States Congress … so what? The witch hunt is in full force; whether Clemens used steroids—and his testimony did nothing to answer that questions—is beside the point. His is a pelt to hang on the wall, another guy sportswriters can claim they held “accountable,” after missing the actual steroid story for years. Meanwhile, the supposed horrors of using steroids have hardly been dragged out for the world to see; Clemens made $18 million last year as a 45-year-old athlete.

The irony is that the steroid ghost Congress and sports media are still chasing has long since been exorcised by fans. Sure, most would prefer that their favorite players not use steroids, or at least not be outed for using, or if they must use, at least win. If Jason Giambi hits 45 homers this year, he’ll be cheered at Yankee Stadium, no matter what he puts in his body. Some call this hypocrisy by the fans, but it isn’t; fans just put the game in better perspective than those who work in sports professionally. While congressmen and Mike Lupica are still hand-wringing about Barry Bonds, fans have made their peace and moved on. Baseball is, ultimately, just a form of entertainment—and one that insists upon, and rewards lavishly, superhuman physical ability. Use steroids, don’t use steroids, whatever—just keep up your end of the bargain. This is an entirely healthy attitude and one not a single person at Clemens’s hearing even slightly understood.

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