On Monday, retired pitcher Roger Clemens was acquitted of obstruction and lying to Congress about steroid use. We asked Roger Abrams, the Richardson Professor of Law in Northeastern’s School of Law and an authority on sports law, to explain what this verdict means for professional sports and potential future government prosecutions of professional athletes.
What does the Clemens verdict mean for professional sports?
The acquittal of Roger Clemens might someday be seen as the end of the steroid era in baseball. While the criminal case was based on charges that Clemens lied to Congress, the case turned on his alleged behavior in using performance-enhancing drugs. Some commentators remained convinced that the “Rocket” was “dirty.” Apparently, acquittals in a court of law do not always translate into acquittals in the court of public opinion. The most famous sports acquittal was of the eight ballplayers from the Chicago White Sox who threw the 1919 World Series. After they celebrated their court victory, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them from baseball for life.
Do you think that the Clemens case will also end the government’s prosecution of sports figures for the use of illegal drugs?
One really has to question any further use of limited public resources in this manner. Now that the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens cases are over, we can begin to worry about the next generation of performance-enhancers based on genetic engineering. Steroid use is so 20th century. The legitimacy of the sports we love depends upon our belief that the games are played on the level. That will remain a significant challenge for the major sports in the years to come, although I would doubt that we would see much by way of criminal prosecutions.
Speaking of sports and steroid accusations, what is this new case against Lance Armstrong all about?
The United States Anti-Doping Agency has made public some drug use allegations about the champion cyclist, which apparently will be supported by statements made by his former teammates. It is important to note that the USADA is not a government agency, although it sounds like it is one. It is connected to the national and international private sports establishment. The USADA and its sibling, the World Anti-Doping Agency, tend to act like anti-drug zealots. We will have to see how Armstrong responds to these accusations, but he has triumphed in the past much as he did in the mountains and valleys of France, winning seven Tour de France races in a row.