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The Meaning of Clemens II

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The sad case of Roger Clemens has once again been placed before us. Part of our regret in revisiting the case is a combination of the little that we stand to gain by spending our tax dollars on this matter and the misreading by many of what the action is all about. "Clemens I" ended in a mistrial and we are now on to "Clemens II." What might we gain from this saga?

The formal charges against Clemens are obstruction of Congress, making false statements and perjury related to testimony before a House committee in 2008. The key lesson from the case for all of us is that a breach of ethics can cost you much more than the alleged crime itself. Beyond that there is also a more nuanced lesson for high profile athletes.

The case emanates from Roger Clemens testifying before Congress that he had never used steroids or human growth hormones. Clemens faces not only legal penalties amounting to a potential 30 years in prison but also losing the opportunity to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame and to earn millions in endorsement dollars over the remainder of his lifetime.

The latter are not likely to come back to him even in an era where we see a Tiger Woods creep back into the endorsement market after alleged marital infidelity and even Michael Vick garnering some endorsement traction after serving federal jail time related to his involvement in dog fighting. The banishment from the endorsement space is almost certain when you are no longer playing and scandal strikes in your early retirement years. We learned this from celebrity athletes like Pete Rose, Mark McGwire and Marion Jones, who did not have a field of play "redemption" opportunity.

Woods and Vick are back at their respective games and as a result, a bit of public forgiving is taking place and endorsements are back in their lives, albeit modestly. McGwire, Rose and Jones have ended the athletic careers that brought them fame. Endorsements are not likely to come back their way.

So what is the key lesson to be learned from Clemens II? The obvious one is certainly, do not use performance enhancing drugs. The broader lessen for us non-superstar athletes is an old saw: the punishment for lying is worse than the crime itself. Get counsel early. Listen to that counsel. As tough, powerful, cagey or whatever you may be on the athletic field, court, ice, track, or in your own profession or home, it is almost never the case that you can outwit the legal system once you have become the target of a prosecutor, particularly at the federal level, and especially when you have actually committed the act in question.

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