Wednesday February 13th, 2008

So ends a gathering of Congressmen to hear Mr. Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee speak under oath and for the Representatives to continue to generally examine baseball's drug problem. Oyez, oyez, batter up!

There are some, of course, who believe that this sort of thing is nonsense, that government should not bother umpiring sports, that that's a diversion from the more pressing business of the republic. Myself, however, I incline my thinking in the other direction, that we need government to intrude occasionally, because sports are too popular, too important culturally to be left to the coaches and commissioners.

There are times, of course, when government can be as frivolous as the games it postures to protect. We had the example not long ago of the Georgia House of Representatives actually voting passionately, 151 to 9, on a resolution to urge the NCAA to establish a college football playoff -- all because the dear Georgia Bulldogs didn't make the title game this year. If ever there was a case of, Hey, get over it ...

And since sports create a wider audience than, say, an examination of import taxes on widgets, politicians are always vulnerable in these instances to grandstanding.

But that's a small price to pay for trying to keep sports on that level playing field they always bray about. A great many countries have a ministry of sports which oversees athletics, and in nations where soccer is uber alles -- which is most of them -- the country's soccer coach is often a national figure on the par with the prime minister. While we don't care that much about international sport, our domestic leagues and our big-time college sports are so prominent in our public consciousness that, yes, especially when it comes to matters of cheating, the government has every good reason to investigate, no less than it would peer into possible improprieties in other institutions.

Yes, if professional players are taking illegal drugs and affecting the outcomes of games and influencing the behavior of young athletes, then elected officials are right to step in. And yes, like Senator Arlen Specter, I do very much want to know why the NFL commissioner destroyed those illegal videos taken by the Patriots, the most successful franchise of this century. It just smells bad, doesn't it? And yes, Congress was correct looking into the way old NFL players may be treated in a business otherwise so prosperous and glorious.

Of course, I do find it inconsistent that Congress almost never seems to stick its nose into college sports, even though they are autocratically ruled by the NCAA, an organization the sports economy authority Andrew Zimbalist so perfectly labels as nothing more than a "trade organization for coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners." There is more hypocrisy and cheating in college sports than the pros would ever dream of, but, of course, like the ladies and gentlemen of the Georgia House of Representatives, our federal politicians all love their alma maters and play up to the alumni who vote, so they keep their attentions focused on the pros.

And so now we dissect what Mr. Clemens said under oath to explain himself ...

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