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(Sort of) In Defense of the Clemens Hearing

Congress_4523.jpg
Congress_4523.jpg

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Congress is on vacation this week, providing an opportunity for members of the House oversight committee to catch up on the terrible press they got for the “Did Roger Clemens take steroids?” hearing last week.

Pundits across the nation have harumphed that committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) was on an ego trip and the committee has more pressing matters. Waxman, of course, helped facilitate the pile-on by telling the New York Times that the hearing took place only because Clemens’ lawyers insisted upon it.

That there are more deserving probes than whether Clemens took steroids is a legit argument, though it’s doubtful these critics will weigh in on the committee’s next FDA or government contract hearing.

Less valid, though, are the contemptuous sneers emanating from the nation’s sportswriters. In “A Pathetic Display on Capitol Hill“, for instance, John Feinstein writes:

“You see Congress should never get involved in sports. When it does, it is nothing more than a pathetic play to get publicity. Most of the time, the congressmen involved don’t know what they’re talking about. They mis-pronounce names, get facts wrong (or maybe they just ‘mis-remember,’ facts) and generally act star-struck whenever a professional athlete wanders into their midst.”

Yet Feinstein also writes:

“Baseball has now managed to reach a point where it is very possible that 10 years from now the all-time hits leader; the all-time home-run hitter; the first man to hit 70 home runs in a season and the man many consider the best pitcher of the last 50 years will not be in the Hall of Fame.”

He also calls this “pathetic” but says “almost no one in Congress knows enough about the complicated multi-billion dollar industries of sports.” Given members of the committee familiarity with the defense contracting and pharmaceutical industries I suspect they’re not naive about the sordid world of ESPN TV money.

Indeed, a March 2005 committee hearing made clear that it’s baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig who are impotent at dealing with baseball’s steroid culture. That hearing prompted a mea culpa from Selig and the commissioning of the Mitchell Report, the first comprehensive documentation of baseball’s relationship with performance enhancing drugs.

The hearing last week was embarrassing. But in the larger scheme of things, Feinstein should be appreciative of the impressive transparency Congress has provided about steroids in baseball. He could be writing about Iraq war profiteering.

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