Over the last two weeks two stories have dominated the sports landscape; Roger Clemens and his alleged steroid use, and the now infamous Spygate cheating scandal involving the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick. And these stories have played out in a most unlikely forum…the United States Congress.
Everyone who hasn’t been comatose for the last month knows perhaps the greatest right handed pitcher of all time has been embroiled in one of the nastiest public relations battles ever witnessed in American sports. At stake is no less than the legacy of one of the true living legends of baseball and the credibility of this nation’s pastime, Major League Baseball.
In an eerily similar fashion, the legacy of arguably the only dynasty the NFL has had since the Dallas Cowboys won three championships in four seasons fifteen years ago is being questioned by higher powers. The so-called Spygate Scandal threatens the perception of the Patriots as being a clean and scarily consistent juggernaut. At stake is three Super Bowl victories and whether these championships will sit forever in legend or in taint of cheating.
And in perverse fashion these two seemingly unrelated stories involving two different professional sports leagues will be forever linked in infamy because of the misguided and invasive actions of Congress. At the forefront of these issues are the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and there respective mouthpieces California Representative (D) Henry Waxman and Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.
It begs the question…from whence does Congress deem its authority reaches the inner workings of professional sports?
The following quote from Senator Arlen Specter is illustrative; “I am very concerned about the underlying facts on the taping, the reasons for the judgment on the limited penalties and, most of all, on the inexplicable destruction of the tapes.” Apperently Specter’s sense of propriety was violated by the NFL destroying the now infamous Spygate tapes and a Senate investigation is now in the offing. So now millions of dollars will be wasted to exact a vendetta against Roger Goodell and the NFL. I wonder if the fact Specter’s second highest contributer (opensecrets.org) Comcast was rejected by the NFL for a eight game broadcast proposal has anything to do with his motivation. To compound the matter Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy says he will support any future investigation into the alleged cheating ways of the Patriots. And it is almost assured the fact the New York Jets were accused of the same thing will be completely ignored, as will be the accusation of the St. Louis Rams improperly spying on Patriots’ practices prior to their Super Bowl XXXVI meeting. Even Kurt Warner said the matter should be pursued.
According to former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson, such unapproved surveillance was fairly rampant; “Bill Belichick was wrong because he videotaped signals after a memo was sent out to all of the teams saying not to do it. But what irritates me is hearing some reactions from players and coaches. These players don't know what their coaches are doing. And some of the coaches have selective amnesia because I know for a fact there were various teams doing this. That's why the memo was sent to everybody. That doesn't make [Belichick] right, but a lot of teams are doing this.”
And now, according to SportsIllustrated.CNN.com, the Patriots are now being sued for $100 million by former Rams’ player Willie Gary for the loss in SB XXXVI.
Then there’s the Roger Clemens fiasco. For the sake of economy we won’t delve into the guilt or innocence of Clemens. Instead, we’ll concentrate on the mechanism by which Clemens and MLB are being judged.
The rationale by which the House is interjecting itself into an admittedly ugly steroid scandal is as specious as its Senatorial counterpart. This latest hearing was spawned by the now famous Mitchell Report that fingered dozens of current and former baseball players as being the beneficiary of performance enhancing drugs. And ironically the Mitchell report was inspired by the 2005 hearing by the same House Committee, the very hearing wherein Mark McGwire sat in stoic defiance and Rafael Palmeiro wagged his lying finger to an incredulous panel of representatives.
Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummins said this in response to the 4 ½ hour hearing; “So anybody who has any interest in sports had to at least hear about it. I had people coming up to me saying 'I was glued to the television.' We got probably 100 phone calls. So the issue was raised. So if we're able to cause one child to say 'I'm not going the steroids route,' if we're able to save one life, I think it's well worth it.”
In a mea culpa moment Waxman said he regretted the holding the hearing, “I think Clemens and McNamee both came out quite sullied, and I didn't think it was a hearing that needed to be held in order to get the facts out about the Mitchell report.” Waxman then insisted the proceedings were convened at the request of Clemens and his attorneys.
Pardon me if I am so bold as to say Waxman and his cohorts come out as the sullied ones in this equation. The true victim in this tale is the American sporting public. We are now led to believe that Congress is an appropriate forum to resolve disputes regarding professional sports.
This falls squarely under the heading of misguided and draconian use of authority. The troubling thing about these sordid events is the fact our nation’s highest political officers have seen fit to use Congressional resources to investigate wholly private sector dealings. No where in the record of either the House or Senate is it alleged the NFL or MLB violated federal law or any anti trust regulation.
There is no violation of anti trust law. There is no violation of federal regulation. There is no violation of state law or regulation. This is a hollow gesture by self aggrandizing stuffed shirts who are drunk with oversight power. How can Congress hold the NFL & MLB accountable to law that doesn’t exist? Only if they exceed their mandate of authority can Congress interject itself into this debate. The only conceivable rationale by which Congress can dink MLB and Roger Clemens is for violating federal substance abuse laws. But Clemens has not tested positive and his main accuser has all the credibility of your average professional wrestler. Additionally, MLB has not violated federal drug laws by being blissfully ignorant of its own foibles.
By their own admission the NFL already investigated Spygate and handed down the maximum fine against those involved, including the forfeiture of a first round draft pick in April. Yes baseball has buried its head in the sand regarding the steroid issue but that is their right, albeit a foolish idea.
Some have forwarded the claim that Congressional oversight is necessary to reverse public perception about cheating in sports and that they will be an accurate barometer of how to police entities that until now have been relied upon to police themselves. The NFL and MLB are privately held entities that receive no federal subsidies. As such their application of internal policies should be entirely outside the realm of Congressional intervention. If Congress can dictate to the NFL & MLB how to govern themselves then the average sports fan will eventually have to bow in kind.
In closing I would urge everyone to ignore the Congressional preening and tell Specter, et al. to shut the *bleep* up.