Clemens Strikes Out on Capitol Hill

Baseball all-star Roger Clemens testified before Congress yesterday over alleged steroid use, but his story is leaving his fans with plenty of questions. NPR's Tony Cox talks with New York Times writer Bill Rhoden about the hearings.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES. It's time again for a look at the week in sports with our very own Tony Cox. And Tony, baseball is back on Capitol Hill.

TONY COX: That's right, Farai. Mr. Clemens goes to Washington, and Mr. McNamee goes, too. Steroids, human-growth hormones and a House committee investigation into baseball, that is the main focus of today's conversation with New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden. Hey, Bill, how are you doing?

Mr. BILL RHODEN (New York Times): Great, Tony Cox. Everything is great, man.

COX: Listen, well maybe not for Roger Clemens. Baseball's most celebrated pitcher appeared before Congress yesterday after he was named in a federal report on steroid use in baseball. Now if you've never heard one of his many vehement denials that he ever took steroids, here's what he told lawmakers yesterday under oath.

(Soundbite of Congressional Hearing)

Mr. ROGER CLEMENS (Baseball Pitcher): No matter what we discuss here today, I'm never going to have my name restored, but I've got to try and set the record straight. I'm not saying Senator Mitchell's report is entirely wrong. I am saying Brian McNamee's statements about me are wrong. Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.

COX: Now Bill, that was followed by the also-under-oath testimony of Clemens' accuser, Brian McNamee, who said again that he injected the future Hall of Fame pitcher with steroids on several occasions. What was new yesterday was the affidavit from Clemens' former teammate and best buddy Andy Pettitte. Pettitte claimed that Clemens told him that he had indeed used human-growth hormone and that Mrs. Clemens did, too, and so on it went. One thing's for sure, Bill Rhoden, somebody is lying.

Mr. RHODEN: And Tony, not just lying - I mean this goes beyond lies. You know, I mean it's one thing to say I took, you know, I thought it was flaxseed oil, you know, but it's one other thing for somebody who's an eyewitness to say I injected him 16 to 21 times and then say you know what, it was really more than that. I mean injecting you. Then you say you're lying. I mean that to me - there has to be - there should be no question that this is a Justice Department investigation. This has to - somebody's got to be indicted. This has to go before the grand jury.

If this does not, if Clemens does not get the same treatment that Barry Bonds was exposed to over a period of two years, then it's a complete travesty, it's a travesty of justice.

COX: Now there's no smoking gun, though, so is there going to be enough evidence one way or the other to know whether Clemens perjured himself or if McNamee did?

Mr. RHODEN: Tony, we may not have a smoking gun, but we've got a box full of syringes that this guy is saying...

COX: Barry Bonds still wants to play next season. It's not clear if Clemens does or not, but would a team take the Rocket now that this scandal has grown even bigger, do you think?

Mr. RHODEN: I think that teams will be hard-pressed to do it, but my sense, Tony, is still that there's still not the same vitriol aimed at Clemens that there is at Bonds. I think that Clemens will have an easier time of pitching than Bonds will have of hitting.

With Bonds, you had him - well, the government says making untrue statements before a grand jury. Here, you've got an eyewitness account, a guy who said I injected him. You've got sworn affidavits from his teammate, you've got Chuck Knoblauch, who corroborated what McNamee said. You've got everything pointed at this guy, and you've got Clemens saying you're all lying. You're all lying. So if nothing else, the government has to say, okay, you know what? Enough of this. Let's see if the grand jury feels that there is enough evidence.

COX: Well, along that same point, because you mentioned the government, we have Congress looking into sports on three fronts, Bill, right now. We have steroids in baseball, we have Spygate in football - and just to remind you, that's the case of the Patriots videotaping the other teams' signals and maybe practices and the destroying of the tape. Lawmakers are also looking into the health problems of former NFL players. What do you make of all this Washington involvement in sports?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, you know, Tony, the problem is sports - the government sort of allowed sports - like a child to kind of grow up, you know, pampered, unsupervised, on their own, no discipline, nothing. So now the sport grows up to be this 21-year-old kid that is - has no discipline, no regard for authority and has kind of grown up wild, and I think that what you're seeing now is Congress saying you know, we've got to rein this stuff in because this has really gotten out of control. I don't ever think there'll be a Department of Sports created, but clearly sports has grown to this multi-billion dollar industry that's kind of gone on its own devices and really needs to be reined back in.

COX: Clemens' treatment before the committee raised a lot of eyebrows, in part because he had already gone to meet individually with a number of members of the committee, and the questioning seemed to be a love-fest, and it also seemed to be partisan. What did you make of the behavior of the committee members during the quote-unquote interrogation?

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, yeah, Tony, it was clearly partisan. You know, the Democrats were throwing fastballs at Clemens and sort of softballs at McNamee, and the Republicans were routinely decking McNamee. I mean, they were brushing him back, knocking him down. And that's what troubles me about this, is that I just look at this and think that there are some forces within Congress who want to see Clemens walk.

COX: Bill Rhoden, it's always good to talk to you.

Mr. RHODEN: Hey Tony, it's always a pleasure.

COX: All right.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox talking with Bill Rhoden. Bill is a sports columnist for the New York Times and author of "40 Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Black Athlete."

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