Hero Worship Clouds Judgment


OK, I want the big, bad federal government to stop it! Get off the backs of these poor professional athletes. Leave them alone to simply do what they do best — rake in dollars and public adulation by playing the sport they love. I mean, really, they are the closest things we have to royalty in this country, and they should not be held to the legal standards of mere mortals.

First, take the case of the mean ol’ federal prosecutors vs. Barry Bonds, an outfielder who racked up more home runs than anyone else in Major League Baseball history. This guy should be in the Hall of Fame for that accomplishment, but what does the government do? For more than seven years, the feds try to prove Bonds used steroids and then lied about it to some grand jury somewhere. What a crock!

Then feds targeted cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Can’t they leave this poor guy alone? For two years the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles investigated Armstrong, trying to prove he injected himself with performance enhancing drugs and did banned blood transfusions to save his own drug-laced blood for later. In the end, they had to drop the case!

And then they zeroed in on poor Roger Clemens — a seven-time Cy Young award winner. Hey, the guy said the Mitchell Report on drug use in baseball got it all wrong. He sat right there before Congress and a national TV audience in 2008 and swore under oath that he never used any performance enhancing drugs — so why keep going after him all these years?

And look at all the money they’ve spent on these federal investigations into sports doping. What a waste of money!

Now, as I take my firmly implanted tongue from my cheek, let’s make time for a reality check.

The biggest fallacy in the thoughts expressed above is that the government shouldn’t spend the money to go after people who are suspected of lying to Congress or federal investigators. That’s just ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter that you can ride a bike a long way or play baseball better than anyone else. Federal prosecutors don’t start investigations willy-nilly.

In fact, the scuttlebutt around the law enforcement world is that the feds are too cautious and rarely file a case in court unless they think they can win. (This, despite a couple of spectacular losses lately — the John Edwards and Roger Clemens cases.)

As a society, we cannot allow someone who top cops think has lied to Congress or federal officials to go unchecked or unpunished. It’s the very foundation of our justice system — and if we let some citizens get away with it, then it isn’t a very equal system, now is it?

I can’t possibly rehash all the details of the Bonds-Armstrong-Clemens cases here, but I can give you my constitutionally protected opinion.

I think there’s no denying that Barry Bonds showed up for the 1999 baseball season with a ballooned body that looked like a gym rat on steroids. Who among us believed he had simply been on a strict diet and a heavy work-out regime?

Bonds, guided by his high-priced legal team, dodged and weaved around his suspected drug use for years and is the primary reason the case took so long. If everything was on the up-and-up, why didn’t Bonds urge his trainer Greg Anderson to simply step up and tell the truth? Instead, Anderson went to prison for more than a year.

Ultimately, Bonds was found guilty of just one of four counts related to his alleged drug use, but it is important to note the jury found him guilty of obstructing justice by lying to a federal grand jury.

Bravo! You just can’t do that in this country, no matter how rich and famous you are. Ask TV personality Martha Stewart. She served prison time for just such a conviction (and for lying to federal investigators) in 2004. Bonds is free and appealing his conviction.

The two-year investigation into Lance Armstrong’s alleged drug doping was closed last February and no charges were filed. But that doesn’t mean law enforcement shouldn’t have vigorously checked out statements from some of his cyclist colleagues alleging that Armstrong had been using the performance enhancing drug erythropoietin (EPO) and human growth hormone.

Of course the claims should have been investigated. And maybe you heard, the United States Anti-Doping Agency is now looking into new allegations that Armstrong’s 2009 and 2010 blood samples were “fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions.” Armstrong steadfastly denies wrongdoing, but where there is so much smoke there may be fire.

As for Roger Clemens: In 2008, he testified before Congress that his name never should have been listed in an official report next to known and suspected sports dopers. But the committee found so much evidence that the report was right and Clemens was wrong that they sent the matter to the U.S. Justice Department to investigate.

This is the way the system is supposed to work, folks. The feds didn’t just go on an unsubstantiated witch hunt. They were directed by Congress and had a trainer named Brian McNamee who swore he repeatedly injected the 49-year-old defendant with steroids. In the end, the jury acquitted Clemens on all six counts that he lied to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Good for him; he got off.

So, if you hear some uninformed person say the government should stop going after suspect athletes, tell them to check their hero-worship at the door. In America, everyone suspected of a crime is supposed to be investigated equally. Then, it’s up to the jury to decide.

Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net reach her via email [email protected].

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