Congress is taking a long hard look at professional sports. A few years ago several key figures in Major League Baseball were called to testify before Congress on the proliferation of steroids and other performance enhancing substances in professional baseball. Raphael Palmiero famously called Jose Canseco a liar and wagged his finger at the Senators for wasting their time pursuing such flimsy allegations. Then he tested positive for steroids a few months later.
Recently, Baseball solicited the assistance of former Senator George Mitchell to lead an in depth investigation into the use of performance enhancing substances. The result was a detailed report based on numerous law enforcement operations that connected professional athletes to steroids and human growth hormone. Names were named and media frenzy ensued.
Now Roger Clemens, who magically became a more dominant pitcher in his 40s than he was in his 20s is in the crosshairs. He was named in the report but denies the veracity of the investigation. He will face Congress under oath and answer their questions regarding the legitimacy of his baseball legacy. Somehow it seems as though this is a job for law enforcement. Clemens broke the law. He should be arrested, convicted and punished in such a manner that he reveals the names of others involved. Just like any other druggie. Congress doesn’t usually demand testimony from crack dealers, so they shouldn’t waste time with Rocket.
Meanwhile, Arlen Spector has called for a hearing into the infamous, and poorly named, Spygate controversy involving the new England Patriots getting caught violating NFL rules. Like many NFL fans, Spector believes that the NFL might have conspired to cover up a much bigger scandal than was initially reported. That’s probably true but why should Congress care? Even if the NFL rigs its games that revelation isn’t going to impact my life any more than the high cost of health insurance.
Initially I had a hard time taking issue with Congress for probing the steroid issue. Steroids are illegal and when professional athletes use them they set the standards of performance so high that aspiring players have to use steroids to have a chance at reaching that level. That forces the next level of players to use steroids. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t end until you have unscrupulous fathers injecting testosterone into their unborn children. Anybody who has attended a Little League game in the past 10 years knows that’s not nearly as ridiculous as it should sound. If there wasn’t a serious effort to discourage the use of steroids in the pros, how could we expect to keep it out of everything else?
However, the subsequent investigation into the steroid problem seems opportunistic. If Congress really meant business about it they would have charged Palmiero with perjury. They could have gone after Mark McGwire with more vigor or simply ordered the FBI to start making arrests. You see steroids, though not formally banned by baseball until 2003, had been illegal since 1990. Even if a player like Mark McGwire could justify his abuse of steroids by claiming a technicality he still broke federal laws by purchasing, possessing and using controlled substances. But Congress chose to let everybody off the hook. So why round two?
More perplexing is the inquest into the NFL’s actions regarding Spygate. There are no federal laws prohibiting one team from secretly taping another team’s practices. Even if the NFL swept the issue under the rug it stands to reason that it was a business decision. Most people acknowledge that this sort of cheating is rampant in football. Teams are always looking to gain an advantage. If that means deciphering an opponents defensive signals or decoding the audible indicators quarterbacks use to change plays, so be it.
Cheating takes on different forms and while ethical puritans will not stoop so low as to make a distinction between various types of cheating, there is this pesky little thing called reality. If a receiver gets away with scooping a pass off the ground or a running back recovers a fumble through illicit acts of aggression in the pile long after the whistle has blown it’s considered to be part of the game within a game. It’s not a violation of the rules unless you get caught. So players get away with holding, pass interference and cheap shots all game long. Is Congress going to investigate that?
Maybe they should. Not from the perspective of the players getting away with it but rather why officiating seems to be inconsistent. There’s a lot more at stake if an official is conspiring to influence the outcome of a game. There’s a lot of money changing hands in Vegas and even more being wagered illegally. I could see Congress wanting to know if the fix is in for certain contests, but delving into a coach trying to gain an edge over his competition seems petty. When you think about the results produced, probing the steroid issue isn’t exactly worthwhile either. These things should be delegated.
What’s frustrating about all of this is that Congress seems to have the time, money and manpower to get to the bottom of private sector entertainment but we can’t seem to draw a bead on some of the scandals involving the Bush Administration. Oil prices are through the roof, the U.S. economy is circling the drain and our soldiers are fighting a war that was supposedly over four years ago but Congress can’t get us any straight answers on why. Instead, they’re going to talk to Roger Goodell and get to the bottom of Spygate once and for all. Are you kidding me?
There’s no clearer sign that our government is completely corrupted than this. How can anybody make sports a priority over everything else this country is coping with? It’s offensive that we have elected officials who feel that solving the problem of steroids in baseball or cheating in football is more important than, well, ANYTHING ELSE FACING CONGRESS. The ketchup viscosity studies the FDA wasted money on in the 1980s might have had more social relevance than Spygate. Why are we paying these guys?
It’s not enough to run them out of office. This dereliction of duty is nothing short of criminal. With our soldiers at war you could make a case that this is a form of treason. We elect these clowns to protect and defend us from enemies foreign and domestic, not to joust the windmills of professional sports.
You know, it’s enough to make a guy move out of the country…but what good would that do? Our government gets into everybody’s business. Too bad it never tends to its own.