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Roger Clemens, one of the most celebrated players in baseball history, appeared in federal court on Monday, accused of lying to Congress about taking performance enhancing drugs. The case is part of a sprawling investigation into pro sports and steroids. We explore the federal government’s role in mounting that probe, and discuss whether targeting the athletes is the most effective approach.
- Dave Zirin Sports Editor, The Nation; Author, "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love" (Scribner); author, "A People's History of Sports in the United States" (New Press)
MR. BRENDAN GREELEYWelcome back. I'm Brendan Greeley sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We have in the studio, Dave Zirin. He is the sports editor at The Nation and the author most recently of "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love," and he's here to answer a question for us, which is, are we asking Roger Clemens to die for our sins. He's an unlikely messiah, but he's a great pitcher. He's legendary for his personal training and conditioning and yesterday, he was in a court of law to answer an accusation that he lied to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs.
MR. BRENDAN GREELEYClemens is just one part of the sprawling federal dragnet into steroids and baseball. And I have two questions. One, why did Clemens have to testify? And two, why is Congress investigating baseball in the first place?
MR. DAVE ZIRINThese are two terrific questions, Brendan, and thanks so much for having me here. So did Roger Clemens die for our sins? Well, unlike the other Messiah of reference, I don't think Jesus himself crawled onto the cross and asked for the crucifixion, yet Roger Clemens may have brought this upon himself.
GREELEYJesus never fielded a piece of a bat at a runner ever either.
ZIRINNo. And then, threw it at an unsuspecting Mike Piazza. (laugh) But here's the problem with what -- Roger Clemens and what he's facing right now. First, you had the Mitchell Report a couple of years ago. That was the report issued by former Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell. The centerpiece of this report, which was about steroids in major league baseball, was that Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of his generation and in the discussion for greatest right-handed pitcher to ever play major league baseball, was at the heart of this report as a steroid and performance-enhancing drug user.
ZIRINThis was at the heart of the report. This is what gave the report its flash and its dash. At that moment, Roger Clemens could have done a couple of things. He could have no-commented it and said, you know, what? This report is garbage. They did -- George Mitchell did not interview one player for the report. George Mitchell is on the board of both ESPN and the Boston Red Sox and I don't think his report has any credibility. He could have done that.
ZIRINOr he could have stepped up and -- tears running down his face, like his friend Andy Pettitte did, and said, you know what? I made some mistakes late in my career. I apologize to my fans and I love you all. He could have done that. Instead, Roger Clemens did what he would on the mound when he would hit the sixth inning. He beared down with that Texas bulldog stare and said, you know what? This is all a steaming pile of b-s. It's not true. I'm Roger Clemens and it's not true.
ZIRINHe went on "60 Minutes" and said it's not true. He went on Twitter and said it's not true. Anybody who had a microphone -- a kid could have come up to him with a Fisher Price microphone and he would have said it's not true. Now, you got a problem because Mitchell issued this report to the public and to the U.S. Congress. So the U.S. Congress asked Roger Clemens if he would come testify before them and state to the veracity or lack of veracity of the report.
ZIRINRoger Clemens was under no legal compunction to do so. And you hear reports in the media that he actually insisted that he would get there in front of Congress and say it's not true. He insisted on doing this over the objections of his lawyer, Mr. Rusty Hardin. Now, you have differing reports on this, about whether or not Roger Clemens insisted on doing it, whether there was pressure coming from Congress. But he'd been on "60 Minutes," for goodness sake, saying it wasn't true. And Congress wanted to know, is this true or is it not?
ZIRINSo he gets up there, he says, this is absolute hogwash. I never took anything. They asked him about his best friend, Andy Pettitte, who said, well, Roger would talk about how he would inject himself and he said famously that Andy Pettitte misremembered what he had said. That's a classic now legendary quote from Roger Clemens, and you know what? If he lied in front of Congress, it's -- this is like when the buck stops, so to speak.
ZIRINAnd now, he's under indictment. You could have seen this indictment coming from over a year away. And he's facing -- well, it looks like, under federal sentencing guidelines, 13 months in the slammer and a $1.5 million fine. And if I'm Roger Clemens, I'm not feeling too good right now. The federal authorities issued a 32-page index of their evidence and 12 computer disks, all of which say that Roger Clemens, at some point, took steroids. Now, your listeners might be thinking -- might be thinking (unintelligible) ...
GREELEYWell, let me jump in...
GREELEYI want to go to the listeners. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," by the way. I'm Brendan Greeley from The Economist sitting in for Kojo, which is fantastic because we do not get to talk about sports at The Economist. We would like to hear from you at 1-800-433-8850. It might be a little much to ask whether you feel sympathy for Roger Clemens. I don't know that many people do. But we do want to know whether you think steroids in baseball is a subject for Congress.
ZIRINI will say this. Clemens didn't do a lot to win sympathy yesterday when he showed up in court in a fancy-schmancy suit, frosted tips on the hair. And he made sure he got it done very quickly so he could get on a plane and fly to a Pro Am in South Carolina, the golf.com Pro Am. And you wonder who's giving him legal advice at this point, because his judge in this case is Kenny Walton. And if that name rings a bell to anybody, he was the judge in the Scooter Libby case.
GREELEYReggie Walton. We're being corrected from the...
ZIRINOh, Reggie Walton.
GREELEY...from the control room.
ZIRINSorry. I think Kenny Walton played for the Cubs.
GREELEYThe control room knows everything.
ZIRINYeah. It's a problem, too. If you asked me who Kenny Walton was yesterday, I would have said he plays third base for the Cubs.
GREELEYKenny Loggins wrote "Danger Zone."
ZIRINYeah. (laugh) That is true. Well, did he write it, though, or just perform it? I don't know.
GREELEYI think he's responsible for...
ZIRINThe control room will tell us.
GREELEYAll of those awkward points in his career (laugh), all of those movie anthems. At this -- why is Congress in baseball to begin with?
ZIRINThat's a terrific question. And let me just put my cards on the table. I think Congress's involvement in baseball is completely fraudulent, a waste of the taxpayers' time and money. And you know what? If -- if the problems on this planet were set in terms of poverty, war and all the rest of it, then Congress said, gosh, we have nothing to do. Hey, let's talk about steroids. Then I would be somewhat sympathetic. But I think it's an absolute sham and I'll tell you why I think it's a sham.
ZIRINBecause if one wants to make the case that, wait a minute, steroids are an illegal substance, it's changed major league baseball irrevocably, you have an element of fraud involved, especially since there's an anti-trust exemption on major league baseball. If one wants to make that case, then answer me this, why is it not one owner has ever been called to testify in front of Congress on steroids? It's just been players. There's been one general manager, Brian Sabean of the San Francisco Giants. But other than that, it's been players.
ZIRINThe spot -- and of course, Commissioner Bud Selig and the Head of the Union, Donald Fehr. But it's been a cavalcade of players. And that, to me, makes it immediately fraudulent. I mean, you work for The Economist. Think about any other industry on Earth, for goodness sakes. Like, if General Motors wants a bailout, are they going to be like, we need to find the mechanics to talk about what's wrong with General Motors? Or the BP oil spill, we need to find the oil rig workers to find out why British Petroleum isn't doing more on the spill. No. The people who should have the accountability and best wishes of the game are not present. They are missing in action on this question. And that, to me, is what brands this as being a fraudulent process. What did the owners know and when did they know it?
GREELEYWell, Keith in Silver Spring just dropped us an e-mail. He writes simply one line. "Spare me. He's a baseball player. He's not curing cancer."
ZIRINYeah. But who said he was curing cancer? (laugh) I mean...
ZIRIN...that's a (laugh) ...
GREELEY...let's -- I mean, let's move away from feeling any kind of sympathy for Roger Clemens. I don't think -- there doesn't seem to be in any in this room.
ZIRINIt's actually a big issue. Let me tell -- was that Kenny from Silver Spring?
GREELEYNo. You -- I don't know why Kenny keeps...
ZIRINOr was it the guy...
GREELEY...wandering in here.
ZIRINKenny keeps coming in my head.
GREELEYHis name is Keith.
ZIRINKeith, let me tell you why it matters. Because baseball exploded in monetary popularity in the 1990s. Not necessarily in terms of attendance, but in terms of public expenditures for baseball. And this is something that affects all of us, whether we see ourselves as baseball fans or not. Twenty new stadiums were built over the course of the decade. It's been a substitute for anything resembling an urban policy in this country. $30 billion is a conservative estimate for new ball parks. And you know what? This is the reality now of urban America.
ZIRINGo to Detroit. Go to Milwaukee. Go to Pittsburgh. You have cities without industrial bases, but with new stadiums. How did they justify the building of all this? They justified it with the popularity of the homerun, the McGuire/Sosa homerun chase and all the rest of it. The home -- you know, chicks dig the long ball. (laugh) People may remember that officially sexist slogan that was put forward to build the sport. So this is the problem and this is why it matters.
GREELEYYou can reach us at 1-800-433-8850. We're going to go to Robert in Washington, D.C. Robert, you're on.
ROBERTYeah. I just wonder if your guest is familiar with what Derek Jeter said about the whole thing. Do you know what he said about just -- I think it was during the A-Rod scandal.
ZIRINYeah. I am, but do you want to articulate? Go for it.
ROBERTYeah. Jeter was sitting at his locker and he answered a reporter's question and he said, you know, everybody said that everybody was doing it, but I want to make one thing clear. Everybody wasn't doing it. And I just think, you know, even though I'm not a Yankees fan, you got to remember that there still, you know, are players like Jeter and they definitely deserve our respect.
ZIRINKenny makes a good point. No, I'm just kidding. His name is Robert. I was doing a joke with the Kenny thing.
ZIRINThank you. But -- and the other thing that Jeter said, though, is he said, you know, because -- why am I stained with this if I didn't do anything? And this is the problem when you start talking about -- and then, I've heard other writers say, well, Derek Jeter should have stood up and said other people are doing it, like you have an obligation to be a whistle blower if you're not a user. I don't buy any of that. I think that's a very tough argument to make. To me, the problem is rooted in the late 1980s. 1980s, for goodness sakes. I bet you have listeners that weren't even born in the late 1980s.
ZIRINAnd that was when trainers came to major league owner meetings -- the ownership meetings and trainers said, beware. On the horizon, there's this thing called anabolic steroids. They're coming into the locker room. Owners, you need to do something like that. Trainers have given testimonials that they have made statements to this fact. Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball was the owner of the Brewers at the time. He was in these meetings when trainers would speak about the coming train through the tunnel of steroids that was going to hit baseball like a Mack truck.
ZIRINAnd so what you've had since then, is either a situation of benign neglect or malignant intent. So to me, it is unfair to put the weight on people like Derek Jeter or even the weight on people like Roger Clemens.
GREELEYLet's go back to the business of the long ball. I think it's fascinating how sort of in three decade intervals in America, we discover that something's wrong with baseball. And then, we're shocked that baseball is a business, that people cheat to make money or that they cook the books to make money.
GREELEYYou know, we aren't really sort of morally shocked in other industries. Why are we shocked when we find out that baseball is a business?
ZIRINBecause baseball has the pretentions of being more than a business and that's a part of how it markets itself. I mean, nobody drives a Ford and thinks to themselves, gee, I'm sort of like an owner of Ford because I drive a Ford. You know, no one drinks a Coca-Cola and thinks, wow, I enjoy this Coke so much I'm like an owner of Coca-Cola. But if you ask people in this town, for example, if they feel a sense of ownership over the Washington Redskins or a sense of ownership over the Washington Wizards, probably not the Nationals yet (laugh) unfortunately, especially with Strassburg out.
ZIRINBut, you know, there's a whole different kind of psychic connection that exists between sports and their fans that does not exist in other industries. So people want it to be worthy of something that they can pass on to their children. And you don't have that when the ugly side of it -- when you see how the sausages are made, it's an unpleasant experience. And you're right, it does seem to happen every generation and we are appalled new.
GREELEYWe expect Congress to be disgusting, but we want baseball to be pure. Jane in Montgomery County, you believe that baseball is the national sport and that's part of the solution or the problem?
JANEDid you say -- did you call on me?
GREELEYI did call on you, Jane. You're on.
JANEAll right. Well, I must say that I'm an older person and I know that baseball is the national sport and recognized as such. And children honor the players in baseball. They are heroes and children are taught to admire them and they are -- they set a tone of lying and honesty and integrity for all -- their entire lives. I, as a child in Brooklyn, N.Y., grew up loving the Brooklyn Dodgers and I now follow the Nationals as devotedly as I did the Dodgers many years ago. And when these players, who are heroes and admired and, you know, not only as muscle men, but as leaders and roles for them to follow, when they lie and cheat, it destroys the national fiber. And I know this man has been talking very loudly. I don't know who he is.
GREELEY(laugh) His name is Dave Zirin. He's a sports writer. Please continue, Jane.
ZIRINHi. I'm a sports writer so genetically I have to speak loudly. I'm sorry.
JANEAnd where do you work?
ZIRINAt The Nation magazine.
JANEI didn't hear you.
ZIRINThe Nation magazine.
JANEOh, mm-hmm. Well, that...
GREELEYJane, let me jump in here. If you were a devotee of the Brooklyn Dodgers as a child, then you're no stranger to heartbreak.
JANEI absolutely was heartbroken and I couldn't follow -- I, you know, attended a lot of games in Baltimore with the Orioles, but I never -- it never took. But the Nationals is a team I can follow and believe in now. And...
JANE--from what I see of the oncoming -- and all the guys who are on the team, they seem like very clean, decent people. They're not like the tramps who seem to work in football (laugh) who are in some kind of a sexual or fraudulent scheme of one or the other. They seem like a very fine group of men and good moral leaders for children. And if you watch the games, as I do, you see thousands of little kids, age 10 and under, at every game.
GREELEYJane, let's -- we're going to move from the tramps to the fine, young men. And I'm curious to hear what Dave thinks.
ZIRINYeah. Well, we'd be remiss if we didn't recall that when the Nationals came here, there were people -- young kids in Montreal who were heartbroken with the Montreal Expos because of the Washington Nationals. That's the nature of the business. And my father's from Brooklyn. I was born in Brooklyn. The owner of that team, Walter O'Malley, moved the team to Los Angeles and broke a generation of peoples' hearts. And maybe that's just the nature of this game. It was made to break your heart. (laugh)
GREELEYHow do you -- how do follow that? Do we -- are we just going to get our hearts broken for the rest of eternity by baseball?
ZIRINWell, I think we -- either we have to develop tougher skins or we have to figure out what's going to be actually the future of the game. Because here's the bigger problem -- is I know that Jane spoke about the young people who go to the park and there are young people at Nationals games. I've been to them. But the actual audience for major league games is aging. It's older. And there's a reason for that. The games are now on later, they take longer to play. World Series games end way too late. And this is the bigger problem with the sport. They're not reaching out to younger fans. People like Roger Clemens aren't even the tip of the iceberg for what ails baseball.
GREELEYRoger Clemens broke my heart when he sort of played a part in soundly defeating the Mets in 2000. But we'll move from heartbreak to the close of the show. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Diane Vogel, Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, with help from Kathy Goldgeier (sp?) and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. The engineer today is Jonathan Cherry (sp?) Dorrie (word?) is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, and free transcripts are available at our website kojoshow.org. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Brendan Greeley from The Economist sitting in. Thank you for listening.
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