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Clemens Gets Icy Reception, All Sports Should be Shivering
Editor's Note: Cybergolf's Jay Flemma attended yesterday's Senate Hearings featuring baseball star Roger Clemens. Though the session focused on potential abusers of steroids and human-growth hormones in Major League Baseball, it also sounded a warning for all athletes - professional or amateur - in all sports. Here's Jay's take on the historic day, and how it ultimately might affect golf.
Washington, D.C. - Like a lyric out of Pink Floyd's "The Wall," Roger Clemens went skating on the thin ice of modern life on February 13th, dragging behind him the silent reproach of a million disdained eyes. Of course, cracks in the ice appeared under his feet and he was left to claw helplessly as the last support disintegrated beneath him. We watched transfixed, horrified, but we could not turn away, jolted to the fence by the lightning strike.
Yet we must tear our gaze away from what appears to be the formerly iconic Clemens's spectacular self-immolation, and instead focus on how to avoid repeating this sad situation. The clear message of the combined House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform Hearings on "The Mitchell Report: The Illegal Use of Steroids in Major League Baseball" was that Congress will be watching to see that professional sports' testing policies, procedures, and punishments are effective. Moreover, when asked if they would convene hearings regarding drug use in other sports, several prominent Committee members were adamant that, if necessary to protect the public health and promote proper testing and education regimens, they would reconvene further hearings.
Though the pyre of Clemens will burn like a proprietary torch in sports pages throughout the land for months to come, the real purpose of the Congressional investigation was not only to see whether the Mitchell Report "should still stand as proof positive that baseball's effort to combat illegal drug use needs a fresh look," as Ranking Minority Leader Tom Davis (R-VA) said, but to remind the world that Congress would do what it must to hinder profiteering off a drug-fueled workplace in the world of sports in general. Davis specifically praised the depth and breadth of the Mitchell Report "in the face of a daunting list of obstacles: no subpoena power, little cooperation from players, and only tepid enthusiasm among owners more concerned with filling seats than promoting public health."
Davis then defined the battle lines clearly, especially to those who choose to ignore or belittle the devastating side effects of the illegal and sinister potions brewed and administered not in a doctor's office, but in back alleys, gym locker rooms and bathroom stalls. "Those attempting to sell HGH are scamming consumers and breaking the law. We learned of the terrible risks associated with unapproved use. We learned yet again of the dangerous and phony messages being sent to young athletes that there are magic pills and wonder drugs that can grease their path to the Hall of Fame . . . We're here to save lives, not ruin careers. Why? Because the health of young athletes across the country is at stake, and he won't hesitate to defend their interests, even if the process isn't pretty."
So while everyone may believe that this will be the last time Major League Baseball will be forced to account for its pre-2005 past, it's clear that Congress knew the pandemic nature of the performance-enhancing drug epidemic leaving wreckage throughout American high schools. Within the halls of the Capitol, the unofficial title of the hearing was "Truth and Myths about Human Growth Hormone and B-12." Truths and "myths" may be a bit soft. Even Congress said numerous times, "Someone here is not telling the truth." But Congress knew and sought to impart to the American people that the battleground is much greater than Clemens vs. McNamee; the difference between: 1) testing that catches drug cheats and testing that is implemented to avoid attracting the eye of Congress; and 2) punishments that are effective as deterrents and punishments that are a slap on the wrist is the difference between truth and lies, courage and cowardice.
"Our job is to look to the future. These drugs should not be used by kids or in professional sports," Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) told reporters gathered after the hearing. Yes, he made a point to address the lightning rod issue and say McNamee was "very credible," even though "I know he made inaccurate and false statements in the past," but Waxman also added, when asked if Congress would investigate other sports: "We want testing and educational regimes in all pro sports. We will continue to monitor."
Just look at this list of sports in which either the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the World Anti-Doping Agency, or other professional sports organizations that had athletes caught and punished for performance enhancers (not recreational drugs) in the last four years: Wrestling, Archery, Cycling, Track and Field, Racquetball, Weightlifting, Paralympic Track and Field, Paralympic Alpine Skiing, Judo, Paralympic Sled Hockey, (Paralympic Sled Hockey!?), Paralympic Basketball, Boxing, Taekwondo, Bobsled, Ice Hockey, Swimming, Sled Hockey, Team Handball, Snowboarding, Curling, Fencing, Synchronized Swimming, Baseball and Football.
Couple that with the death of young high school athletes like Taylor Hooten and the anecdotes of young girls doing HGH to stay trim and you can see how Congress must take forceful action. Look at the health risks: increased aggression, delusional feelings of invincibility, paranoia, degradation of the liver and cardiovascular system, circulatory and respiratory deterioration, breakdown of the endocrine system including the ability to produce testosterone or estrogen, just to name a few. Of course, there is also the worst risk - death.
So happily, for the great American sports fan and for all kids, athlete or not, Congress has decided to debunk myths and all sports should take notice. If paralympians, synchronized swimmers, bobsledders and archers are taking drugs to enhance performance, every sport, no matter what their altruistic history or ethos, needs to closely monitor their own testing and enforcement.
"Truth and Myths" - it's an appropriate dichotomy. Is there any truth to recent protestations by professional golfers like "Half the stuff they're testing for doesn't help golfers" (Frank Lickliter), and "We won't have that problem because of our culture of honesty" (many players). What about comments like: "Maybe I'm na´ve. There's a bigger chance of someone testing positive who has absolutely no intent of trying to break the rules. The downside outweighs the upside by 1000-1" (Jeff Maggert), and "They're treating us like criminals" (Lickliter again). With all the medical and anecdotal evidence before Congress, professional sports better be aware that our lawmakers will find such comments as pure, weapons-grade baloney. I wonder if Lickliter would tell Congressman Waxman: "He [the tester] is going to have a hard time getting off my property without a bullet in his [behind]."
With the amount of money and public scrutiny involved do you really think the PGA Tour is going to have problems with false positives? Not unless they go to some back alley or mom-and-pop testing lab. These labs are the best in the world, scientifically and medically the top of the class in every way. There's no way they will confuse androstenedione with nasal spray. For every inconvenienced millionaire indignant that a collector accompanies him to procure a sample, there is also one middle-America family struggling with the effects of a child embroiled in the horrible health effects of dangerous chemicals. Over the course of the next few weeks, Cybergolf will be interviewing WADA, USADA and Harvard Medical School officials to analyze how testing policies, procedures, and enforcement can be both effective and avoid the possibility of Congressional scrutiny.
This was a great day for democracy - we saw our system in action, not star-struck by scores or stats, strikeouts or sliders. We watched them do what we elect them to do. They are gravely serious about this and have the public and, in particular, children's health at heart here. My confidence in them and in the government in general is renewed. Sure there were some grandstanders - most notably the misguided Dan Burton (D-IN), who castigated McNamee for "lying" about the "Canseco BBQ," then left before Waxman and others proved him horribly, horribly wrong. But on the whole almost 20 other lawmakers were prepared, lucid, thorough and concerned.
It's a great day for democracy, but only a pretty good day for sports. Today's hearing had a sideshow, Clemens. It will be a great day for baseball when the real people responsible for all this face justice and those who take their place resolve themselves not to repeat their mistake: Resolve not to squeeze the customer for every last dollar, resolve not to do whatever they can to maximize profits short term, resolve not to cover up dirty secrets. For every drug cheat you protect, it's another dirty secret ticking like a time bomb that you have to conceal. And in the long run, the lies will unravel. Look at BALCO, taken down by a rival track coach who got sick of having his cheaters lose to BALCO's cheaters. Somebody in the chain will squeal, somebody will let something slip, somebody will be careless. Then, like today, there will be hell to pay.
The difference between truth and lies, courage and cowardice is not just the difference between HGH and B 12, Clemens and McNamee, but the difference between testing that is ineffective, between expelling cheats and concealing them, and between avoiding scandals in the sport by excoriating and excommunicating the cheater for making the wrong choice.
Public embarrassment and the attendant legal expenses could be an enormous deterrent. If a player knows that he's on an island if he gets caught - instead of protected - he'll think twice. He'll think twice about what he'll put his wife and kids through. If he knows he'll be treated like you would - scorned and ridiculed instead of insulated and protected, that will add significantly to the risk. We have to increase the risk involved in doing these drugs as well as the consequences. When they see how far they have to fall - jail, serious health risks, public humiliation, the kids' college fund going to some lawyer - maybe they'll think more about the long run and less about a fast buck. That's how to combat the temptation to take shortcuts.
At one point yesterday, Clemens said what may be true of any competitive athlete, "When I'm on the mound, I want an edge." That appears to be the most truthful comment he made in months. Clemens' hearing may be over, but society's vigilance must continue. We must closely scrutinize every pro sports league and organization. We need to know that testing stays up to date with the latest designer drugs from rogue chemists, we need transparent punishments so we know we are protecting the clean players at the expense of the cheaters. Look how invisible was the Yankees' Rodomski, the towel-boy and rug supplier. You could walk past him 1,000 times and not even give him a first glance, let alone a second one.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem may have commented at Torrey Pines that he felt testing was counterintuitive to everything golf stands for, but many do not agree. The problem in every sport is resisting the allure of the last dollar on the table. Money gleams, but in the world of professional sports it gives off a manic glint for too many players and sports business people. People will be tempted to dance with the devil, thinking only of the short term. Secrets need to be kept forever, just ask Marion Jones, who surrendered her medals before getting sentenced to prison. When trouble comes, cold winds blow and hot water runs deep. The best way to avoid it is transparency and strength of will. If an athletic league is an open book that shows everyone everything is being done to catch drug cheats, sport will benefit more in the long run than breaking records.
That's the message of Congress to sports and their commissioners. All leaders face difficult decisions. It's how they handle themselves when they're judged. For Bud Selig and Roger Goodell, or even Tim Finchem? The difference is the same between the lightning bug and the lightning, courage and cowardice. Remedying the situation takes nothing more than resolve and sound judgment.
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.