Hearings held by Congress are meant to satisfy its oversight function and afford an opportunity for fact-finding as an aid to future legislation. When baseball players were brought before the Committee to provide information regarding steroid use in baseball, the entire world already knew that some baseball players used steroids. The Mitchell Report contained a complete disclosure of what had been used and by whom. The hearings were merely showtime for the committee members parading themselves and a number of celebrity witnesses before the cameras.
For players brought before the House Committee, those who were guilty of steroid use had three options. They could refuse to testify and assert their Fifth Amendment rights, or they could admit to their use. In either case their reputations would be ruined, close friendships destroyed, their careers and possibly their income affected and, in the case of someone like Roger Clemens, his induction into the Hall of Fame could be jeopardized.
Or they could lie.
Clemens has now been indicted for purportedly lying to Congress about his drug use. What makes his case a little bit less sympathetic is that he voluntarily appeared, rather then having being compelled to testify. The internal compulsion to testify came from the Report that implicated him--rather than the result of a House subpoena. He asserts his appearance was to correct and refute the lies against him---a major opportunity to speak to a national audience. Now he faces a criminal trial and possible imprisonment for that brash move.
Is this a case of selective prosecution, and if so, is it justified? If a guilty person were not charged, or acquitted, or received a lesser sentence merely because he or she were a celebrity, we would scream bloody murder. Here the reverse has happened. Can there be any doubt that Roger Clemens has been selected for prosecution because of his celebratory status. There must be thousands of known steroid users out there who do not and will not face prosecution. I suppose the selection of Clemens can be characterized as a "role model" and the dangers of steroid use will be conveyed to the youth of American who until now idolized and admired him. Of course, the actual lesson from this is not: Do not Take Steroids; it is: Do Not Lie To Congress, hardly an every day occurrence for children. I am not convinced that having our children's heroes knocked off their pedestals is such a worthy goal. Putting all of the recent homerun and pitching champs in jail hardly seems a great teaching moment for the youth of America. There has to be a better way to let them know of the dangers of steroid use.
Yes, I know it is wrong to lie to Congress and that it is a crime to do so. But prosecution is discretionary. The question is: would he have been indicted if he were a nobody? Congressional hearings serve a valuable purpose, particularly when they are used for that purpose and not showboating for the committee members. But to me there is something fundamentally unfair in inviting or compelling a witness before a Congressional Committee, who neither holds nor seeks a government position, and asking that witness whether or not he or she has committed a crime, except in the rarest and most necessary of circumstances. We have the criminal justice system for that function.
Maybe singling Roger Clemens out for prosecution provides a teaching moment for the aspiring young athletes in this country against the danger of enhancing drug use and the importance of telling the truth, but it might also provide a corollary message that certain members of Congress and prosecutors are more interested in promoting their own careers even if it means destroying the careers of those who are heroes among us. I leave it to you my dear readers to decide which is the greater good?