Sleaze and Sleazier: The Clemens Saga
It's a good thing that accused steroids star Roger Clemens' public appearance before a House committee has been delayed for a month. If it had gone off as scheduled next week, it would have reduced the presidential election (never mind the CIA Tapegate fiasco) to a crawl on the bottom of the cable TV screens of America.
I am grateful for the delay -- the Justice Department asked the House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform to push back the Clemens and Co. show so that some of the underlying legal issues could be clarified -- because it is sad to see the angry and often bizarre unraveling of one of my former heroes. Monday's press conference, at which Clemens unveiled to the world the contents of a creepy audiotape of a conversation between him and his accuser, was my final breaking point with a man whose career in Boston started in the fall of 1984, almost precisely when mine did. (Yes, I admit, he went a little further than me).
I watched the conference Monday, my jaw on the floor, and I saw one of the top pitchers of all time -- a man whose authentic Red Sox jersey hangs in my closet -- stand in front of a camera and play a tape (surreptitiously made, natch) that made him sound like a mob snitch trying to lure a Wise Guy. On one end of the phone was the former Hall of Fame shoo-in, and on the other end was his former trainer, a man named Brian McNamee.
Two men with different stories to tell about Clemens' history with steroids. Two men who cannot both be telling the truth. Two men who were once close friends. Two men whose lawyers surely knew this call was taking place. Two men who are locked in such a war that they spent -- what? 17 minutes? -- in a telephone call trying to trap the other into committing some sort of crime.
Clemens was hoping McNamee would confess to lying (to prosecutors, when he accused Clemens of steroid-use). McNamee was perhaps hoping that Clemens would try to coerce him into changing testimony -- that is your garden-variety witness tampering element. As your attorney, I am here to tell you that neither party succeeded. McNamee didn't recant. Clemens didn't coerce. Clemens didn't prove his innocence; McNamee didn't establish his credibility.
On the tape, which ESPN hyped as if it were a "Books on Tape" of the Bible read by the original author, McNamee sounds like the greasy sycophant he surely was for all those years when he was giving players steroids. "It is what it is, and it's not good," he says. "And I want it to go away. And I'm with you. I'm in your corner. I don't want this to happen. But I'd also like not to go to jail, too. But it has nothing to do with you. But I would like to sit down with you in person and talk with you."
Here is another excerpt from McNamee: "No, you treated me better. You treated me like family. From day one I was family to you, and you treated me like that. You know, I'm glad to hear your voice. I just - you know, I don't believe that, you know, it is, whatever. I just -- the bottom line is I'm glad to hear your voice. I'm sorry that your family is going through this. And I'll do whatever I can do to help.'
Got it? Clemens wants you to think that McNamee's audio kowtow is proof that the trainer lied to prosecutors when he declared that he had injected Clemens with steroids. But all I heard was one manipulative jock trying to outmaneuver another manipulative jock. There is no dispositive moment on the tape when a reasonable person -- say, a judge or jury -- would exclaim: Ah ha! I have solved the mystery! Indeed, all I could think about during the replay of the tape was the movie "Dumb and Dumber"-- a movie about two guys who talk about nothing.
In the end, it's at best a wash for the Rocket. Yes, he gets to create for potential jurors (and the court of public opinion) the perception that McNamee may be a desperate idiot. But we now know some stuff that doesn't make Clemens look so hot, either. For example, could a guy who admits he was "eating Vioxx like lt was Skittles"-- Vioxx now being a banned drug-- really be as careful about his body as he now claims?
I'm just asking. And don't call me on the phone to give me your answers. I don't want my voice on ESPN unless I say so.
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