Opinion

Sticks and stones may break my bones

NASCAR told a whopper. Back when the France family, NASCAR’s owners, were angling to build a race track north of Marysville, they projected an employment boom for us. It was false and they knew it. The good jobs were reserved for NASCAR staffers. We would supply now-and-then parking attendants and food and drink servers, something short of the promised boom. By neglecting to mention that the real jobs wouldn’t be ours, they lied.

A candidate for Supreme Court testified under oath that he would rule impartially on all issues. Once on the bench he proceeded to rubber-stamp court business to support his party’s positions. He lied. Left, right and center, lying has become a stock tool for doing business. The end justifies the means, so they say.

Since we’re adrift in a sea of lies, it might be useful to sort them out one from the other. One stack for little white lies, another for great terrible crashing lies. Then do a second sort to separate them according to the amount of mischief they stir up. “I think so too, Honey. Those shoes look great with your dress.” The shoes were double-ugly but no harm, no foul. A little lie.

“The Iraqi regime possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.” That, and other lies from the Bush White House led to 100,000 Iraqi deaths, over 4,000 U.S. servicemen killed and a mountain of war-related debt. They were clearly dangerous misuses of language for wrong purposes. Toss them on the Huge Lie stack.

Iran’s President Ahmadinejad announced to the U.N. that the United States government was in on the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. That big lie could have incited hot-headed militarists to mount an attack on Iran but we weren’t nutty enough to take the bait. Another big lie.

How should we measure Roger (The Rocket) Clemmons’ lie? Did he or did he not use performance-enhancing drugs in setting a pitching record? Was it something more than training-table grub that transformed him from a slim wisp to a barrel-chested gorilla?

Who you lie to and under what circumstances counts for a lot. Un-witnessed lies can slip by with little fall-out other than learning who you shouldn’t trust. But lie to Congress, as Clemmons did, and you inflame a lot of inflated egos. Lie to them and they’ll show you who’s boss. As recent electioneering showed, politicians are way ahead of ballplayers when it comes to lying.

Finally, who got hurt by Clemmons’ lie and how serious was the damage? The baseball industry got another black-eye but to most fans and pro athletes it was nothing more than a case of business as usual. Clemmons certainly didn’t invent lying about using performance-enhancing drugs. Sports history is littered with fallen giants of track, baseball, football and cycling, record-setting luminaries who got their wrists slapped or relinquished a medal or two.

Some get caught. Seven athletes were D-Qd for doping at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Twelve U.S. athletes ducked out of the Pan Am Games in Caracas rather than submit to drug tests. In 1991, the entire East German swimming team was busted for 10 years of steroid abuse. Forty Chinese swimmers failed drug tests between 1990 and 2000. Mark McGuire rode steroids to his record 70-homer season. Floyd Landis was stripped of his Tour de France trophy after failing two drug tests. Add Marion Jones, Martina Hingis, Barry Bonds, the Russian rowing team, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Rashard Lewis.

So why might the system go soft on Clemmons? There are four reasons. First, Congressional inquisitors enjoyed having someone else’s lies in the spotlight. Second, the damage he caused was miniscule compared with unpunished war-mongers and corporate cheats. Third, he’s a product of a system that chooses soft enforcement of anti-doping rules. Lastly, the public doesn’t give a rip how players break records, just that they keep doing it.

In the public’s mind, there’s not much difference between a race car and an athlete’s body. To gain wins, you tune them to push the limits. Though athletes may not memorize their sports’ rule books, there is one rule they all know well: Cheat but don’t get caught. Nowhere is that more evident than in international soccer matches where it would take a dozen officials to cover the constant grabbing, tripping and elbowing that typify the sport.

Roger Clemmons was caught. Some might say, ratted out. If there is any unfairness to whatever penalties he suffers it is because his use of drugs was consistent with his culture. Clemmons is a high-profile scapegoat who represents doping practices that will continue so long as we buy tickets to witness super-human achievements.

Comments may be addressed to rgraef@frontier.com.

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