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Roger Clemens Latest Sports Star to Face Steroid Charges

August 20, 2010 at 6:28 PM EDT
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Seven-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Rodger Clemens has been indicted on six counts for allegedly lying to Congress about steroid use. David Epstein of Sports Illustrated gives some perspective on the charges Clemens is facing and the issue of steroid use in sports.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Eleven-time All-Star pitcher, seven-time Cy Young Award winner, known as the Rocket because of a fastball that helped him strike out so many batters during his 24-year career, Roger Clemens is now the latest baseball great facing criminal charges tied to his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The charges stem from testimony before Congress in February 2008.

ROGER CLEMENS, former Major League Baseball pitcher: Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yesterday, a six-count indictment by a federal grand jury accused him of lying.

Clemens stood his ground, writing on Twitter: “I never took HGH or steroids. And I did not lie to Congress. I look forward to challenging the government’s accusations, and hope people will keep an open mind until trial.”

No date has yet been set for the former pitcher’s first court appearance.

And joining us now is David Epstein, staff writer for Sports Illustrated, where he’s written extensively about steroid use in sports.

David, welcome back.

Remind us briefly about the evidence as it is known so far against Roger Clemens.

DAVID EPSTEIN, Sports Illustrated: Well, the — the biggest piece of evidence, of course, is that his personal strength coach, Brian McNamee, says that he personally injected him with steroids, says that he saved syringes with Roger’s DNA on it, with traces of steroids on it.

And to corroborate some of the things he said, a close personal friend, former teammate of Roger’s, Andy Pettitte, who really, seemingly, had to reason to lie about Roger’s use of drugs, said that Roger admitted to him that he had used human growth hormone.

So, some people who are really close to Roger are going into great detail about his drug use and, of course, Roger is adamantly denying it.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what is his reputation now on an off the mound? How big a fall from grace for this — is this for what is, after all, at least in baseball terms, one of the all-time great pitchers? So, where does that stand now?

DAVID EPSTEIN: It’s huge. On the field, you’re talking about a guy who is the best pitcher of his generation. Now we have got the best hitter of his generation in Barry Bonds and the best pitcher of his generation in Roger Clemens both under indictment for lying to investigators — or perjury anyway.

And it’s a huge fall from grace. He would have been absolutely a first-ballot Hall of Famer, along with Barry Bonds, who they’re both up for voting for the first time in 2013. And off the field — while he was seen as an intense guy, off the field, he dealt with a lot of youth programs, was seen as an icon for young people. And I think that’s — through — through all the reporting on — in the wake of the Mitchell report, you know, extramarital affairs have come out. He has been defiant. And it’s been, quite frankly, strange, from the admission from — that his wife was receiving growth hormone injections in their bedroom to his own behavior.

And I think it’s really damaged his reputation, both on and off the field, whether or not he is acquitted or convicted in this trial.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, he is sticking to his story. What — how does this play in baseball circles, in the world that you cover? Is he getting support there? What is the situation?

DAVID EPSTEIN: I think he’s getting support from players. But players kind of tend to support each other, because it’s not really — it doesn’t play very well in the clubhouse if you are talking bad about other players or ex-players. And a lot of guys were part of the steroid era, and they understand the pressures. And I’m sure they sympathize with him quite a bit. And if they don’t, then they are probably more likely to keep their mouths shut.

At the same time, I think a lot of people familiar with baseball are frankly surprised — not surprised at the indictment, but surprised that it took this long, because, if you read the indictment, it largely seems like the things contained in it were contained basically the day of the congressional hearing.

And talking to committee members and the congressional committee when — right after the hearing occurred, you really got the sense that they felt like Roger Clemens had lied right then.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what’s really been interesting to watch over the last couple of years now — and you have watched it real carefully — you have some very prominent cases — you have Roger Clemens, and you mentioned Barry Bonds — where they denied any use of illegal substances.

Then you have had some other prominent athletes, notably Alex Rodriguez, say, “Yes, I did,” and move on. Different strategies.

DAVID EPSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. And, again, in Clemens’ case, you look at Andy Pettitte, who admitted his use of human growth hormone, expressed some contrition, and it’s like almost as if it never happened, you know? Not that he’s quite as big a name as Roger Clemens, but clearly part of what has gone on with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds is their defiant tone and the fact that they have kind of bred some bad blood around this, because the players that have admitted it and said, “I was part of an era,” and kind of apologized have really moved on from it.

And Alex Rodriguez, who is as big a name as Roger Clemens, has, to some — it will come up again when he is approaching various records and when the Hall of Fame voting comes up, but he has certainly moved on from it a lot more than, say, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens has.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, can you tell us briefly just where do things stand in terms of the game, its — its intent on keeping it clean now?

DAVID EPSTEIN: Well, just recently, Major League Baseball announced that they are instituting, for the first time, random — well, semi-random testing for human growth hormone in the minors, where they don’t have to collectively bargain it, because minor league players aren’t part of a union.

So, it is a step in the right direction, although they have kind of already given away some things about the timing of the testing, which is going to be after games. And growth hormone testing right now really isn’t very effective. You have to test someone almost right after they take human growth hormone.

And, already, Major League players have expressed all kinds of doubts, you know, about whether they would want to be tested in that way, basically, which makes you think it will be difficult to collectively bargain.

So, I think baseball is somewhat serious about continuing the program, but they are really far away from having the quality that, for example, Olympic testing has — really far.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. David Epstein of Sports Illustrated, thanks very much.

DAVID EPSTEIN: Thanks for having me.