Although Roger Clemens was acquitted in his second trial for lying to a congressional panel about receiving steroid injections, his quest to be perceived as untarnished in his greatness will not be achieved easily. Under a cloud of suspicion, he feared that he would not be able to restore his name as a clean baseball icon, and he was right; because in the court of public opinion he is widely viewed as guilty. Clemens maintained a stance of righteous indignation throughout the four year ordeal surrounding the charges, and in turning down a plea bargain he successfully gambled that he would be vindicated.
Among the factors that led to the acquittal were his strong team of attorneys, Andy Pettitte's waffling about his memory regarding his friend, Roger's, statements to him, and the seemingly bored and indifferent level of interest among some of the jurors; which parallels the public's shifting attitude toward athletes and performance-enhancing drugs from anger to "whatever". "Who cares" seems to be a growing mantra on this subject. And, perhaps there was an anti-authority backlash operating toward the government for spending millions of taxpayer dollars during a recession, to pursue an offense of "lying" by a famous sports hero.
For Clemens a further vindication would come from his election to the Hall of Fame, but hold on, this becomes a prickly issue. His name will be on the ballot this fall along with other besmirched players like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. The more than 570 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who cast votes will face an interesting dilemma in deciding whether to continue to express their disgust and anger over having been duped by the steroids induced charade, by rejecting suspected steroids cheaters. In this context it is significant that Mark McGwire has received a paltry number of votes, since his eligibility began four years ago.
One possible scenario is that they will vote for Clemens, who was media friendly, and rebuff Bonds, who was consistently antagonistic toward them. 75 percent of the vote is required for election, and many sports writers are known to carry grudges. This outcome would create a huge racial firestorm. Another scenario would be that the writers fail to endorse Clemens as a consequence of projecting their anger at themselves for having denied the obvious and participated as enablers during the steroids era.
If Clemens is not elected, it would also be viewed as a referendum on his guilt, despite the verdict of the jury. A 2008 Gallup poll indicated that 57 percent of those surveyed believed that Clemens had lied about using steroids. To the extent that this sentiment still prevails, it would be poetic justice for him to be denied entry to the privileged Hall of Fame. Sometimes star athletes who are widely believed to have been guilty of serious transgressions are punished in other venues after they have been set free in a court of law. O.J.Simpson and the Black Sox players stand out as examples of such after the fact comeuppance.
What is being overlooked in the reactions to the Clemens acquittal is its effect on kids. The danger is that the take away for many who suspect that Roger Clemens cheated, is that you can use PEDs and that the health hazards associated with steroids will be obscured in their minds. The sagas of Taylor Hooten and Rob Garibaldi, promising young athletes who embraced steroids in emulating their heroes like Bonds and McGwire, and became suicide victims in the throes of steroids involvement needs to be remembered.
Stanley H.Teitelbaum is the author of "Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side" and "Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols".