What does the war on drugs have to do with the sport of baseball? Just ask Roger "The Rocket" Clemens, who was just indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Do you really care he lied to Congress? I don't. Clemens is now facing a $1.5 million fine and up to 30 years in prison if convicted. To make matters worst this week a gag order was issued by the judge assigned to the Clemens' case prohibiting public comments by those involved in the case that could affect the jury pool for trial. This is a clue that the case will be an uphill battle to prove his innocence.
For the sake of argument: What if Clemens did use steroids? Does he belong in jail? He is not the first athlete to use them and he will not be the last. The pursuit for athletic superiority through the use of chemicals has been around a long time. Before steroids were officially banned in the early 1970's almost 70% of Olympic athletes had used them.
Clemens' indictment is, technically, for lying to congress. But, lets fact it, the underlying reason for the government to come after him is their failure to get Clemens to admit he had used steroids, or any other performance enhancing drugs. Now the government is back, ready to take down the future hall of famer - along with the sport of baseball - by pushing their agenda of a zero tolerance policy toward certain people who use certain drugs.
In the past anti-doping advocates have called for jail time for baseball players that use steroids - saying that it may be the only deterrent in curbing illegal use
The "Rocket" is not the first high profile baseball star that the feds have gone after. There was Barry Bonds, who Travis Tygart, the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, wanted to hang him upside down by his cleats. He thought that the rules of major league baseball concerning the use of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs don't' pack enough wallop in their penalties to deter. For years he has rooted for Bonds to be imprisoned so it sends a clear message to Americans that drug use will not be tolerated.
Imprisonment will not solve baseball's problem - the broader war on drugs has proved that much. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. It has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of the worlds prisoners, incarcerating more than 2.3 million citizens in its prisons and jails, at the rate of one in 136 U.S. residents. About 55% of all federal and over 20% of all state prisoners are convicted of drug law violations, with many of them serving mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession offences. Are we now going to add major league players to drug war statistics?
Is it ethical and morally right to imprison someone for putting chemicals in their own bodies? The drug war has slowly but surely infiltrated the public's eye through different vehicles. Now it is attempting to bring its message through the sport of baseball. Clemens now joins the ranks of other demonized groups such as medical marijuana users, pain sufferers, and students who are forced to urinate in cups. We've abdicated our rights in the absurd hopes of a drug-free America.
At one time baseball was our national obsession. It was a sport that walked hand and hand with the American dream, full of heroes that we could be proud of. Now, the "anti-drug" crusaders are changing its perception, no matter what the cost and how many lives are ruined. I just say "no" to the government destroying our national pastime and "no" to imprisoning the Rocket.
Anthony Papa is the author of 15 to Life and Manager of Media Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance