Two of the biggest news stories this month have been the trials of Casey Anthony and Roger Clemens. What do "the most hated woman in America" and the beloved sports icon have in common? Roger Clemens and Casey Anthony are traveling on parallel pathways. Both have been convicted in the court of public opinion, and neither has been found guilty, as yet, in the court of law.
A recent Gallup poll indicated that two thirds of the American people believe that Casey Anthony is guilty, and in a Gallup poll taken in 2008 fifty-seven percent of the respondents believed that Roger Clemens had lied about using steroids.
We will never fully know the circumstances surrounding the death of little Caylee. Casey's bizarre behavior, such as acting like she was searching for her missing child, Caylee, for thirty one days, while all along knowing that she was dead, primarily has been described by the media and the so-called mental health experts as an expression of her sociopathy. This may be true, but another possibility is that the trauma attached to whatever led to Caylee's death, prompted her to deny the reality. Trauma is defined in the Oxford American dictionary as "an emotional shock producing a lasting effect upon a person". One internal solution for coping with an overwhelming traumatic event is to deny its existence; i.e., to dissociate from the painful truth and proceed as though it didn't happen. A person does not have to be sociopathic to respond to trauma with dissociation (disconnecting from the pain of reality); and delusional denial may become the only way an individual is able to deal with the horrendous situation confronting them.
The stance of Roger Clemens regarding the steroids allegations may contain similar psychological roots. Clemens was the premier pitcher of his generation, with seven Cy Young awards, and he was thriving on special treatment and a unique place atop the MLB pedestal-destined for coronation in the Hall of Fame. Many years of fan adulation conditioned him to acquire a distorted self image, which centered around the personality characteristics of arrogance, grandiosity, and entitlement. I have described this constellation in "Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols" as the toxic athlete profile.
When he was outed by the Mitchell report as a steroid user his status as an extraordinary baseball icon was shattered. Clemens was devastated and traumatized by having his name and reputation tainted, and he responded with outrage. He felt betrayed by baseball after all he had done for the game, and he went on the television program 60 Minutes to present his side of the story and proclaimed that in this country you are guilty until proven innocent. He then requested a new congressional hearing which culminated in the House of Representative Oversight Committee hearings in which he allegedly perjured himself. A prosecutorial blunder has led to a mistrial, and it is unclear whether there will be a new trial. Roger might do well to accept a "no decision" if that option becomes available, but his drive to win could outstrip good judgment and lead him to relish the opportunity to have his day in court.
There are three main ways to understand Clemens's position of vociferous denial and righteous indignation in the face of potentially damaging evidence against him. One is that he is innocent of the steroids allegations, which implies that Brian McNamee, his trainer, is making it up and that Andy Pettitte is distorting the truth. This is an unlikely explanation, since McNamee supposedly provided syringes containing DNA evidence, and Pettitte is widely viewed as believable. The second line of thinking is that Clemens is attempting to muscle his way through this crisis by resorting to his familiar m.o. that the best defense is a good offense. This is how he triumphed over the opposition on the playing field, but his intimidation tactics do not seem to be very effective in this situation. The third possibility is that he is responding to the trauma of being diminished by developing a circumscribed delusion in which he has convinced himself that the alleged steroids and HgH injections never happened. This kind of twisting of reality can occur as a solution to avoid having to deal with the painful demise of all that Clemens had built.
Like Casey Anthony, Roger Clemens may succeed in dodging the bullet of the accusations with an assist from the judicial system. In contrast to Casey Anthony, however, Roger Clemens has been an admired sports star, and it is important that kids who emulate their athlete heroes do not come away with the message that you can take steroids, lie about it, and avoid accountability. In that regard it is imperative that a new perjury trial be set in place.
Stanley H. Teitelbaum is the author of Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side and Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols.