Congressional Comedy and Tragedy

Did the Rocket dodge a bullet or what?

By Dan Rubin 

It’s often said that reality makes the greatest theater. Nothing is more dramatic, intense, or captivating than a Hollywood script being played out in real life. The general feeling that what we’re watching is so real makes it surreal, and the story behind the bizarre and often times comical makes things that much better to watch on television.

It’s why so-called, “reality television” is so popular. We don’t want cartoonish or cleverly designed characters; we want the real thing. We want real heroes and villains. We want to watch real firefighters running into burning buildings, real blue-collar truckers driving on roads made of frozen lakes and streams, real relationships either flourishing or crashing and burning. We want to see what happens to a mother on trial for murder, a football star arrested for breaking federal laws regarding dog fighting or guns, or a storied program breaking rules.

In the true spirit of the comedy and tragedy faces of theater, we also love a good laugh. We love hearing about a baseball legend’s bowel movements (YouTube… “George Brett’s Spring Training story if you’re up for a crude laugh”), a basketball player changing his name to something absurd, (thank you Ron Artest) and a coach’s foot fetish video (a.k.a Rex Ryan).

We eat all of that up because the laughter of reality makes us all watch it a little bit longer, and it makes us all want to watch it for a little bit more.

So when Roger Clemens went on trial for perjury, it captivated us all. I wrote an article about a week ago about Clemens’ history, how I remembered the drama of his career, how I’d always remember that as his final bow regardless of his trial for perjury. There was a general sadness to my naiveté, a feeling that I wanted to ignore the steroids and instead look at the ovation and drama of the baseball field. I didn’t want the heroes of my youth ripped apart the way they were, but I knew I’d still watch it even though I didn’t want to. I knew I’d follow it all with the gripping drama it was sure to produce.

The irony of it all is that most expected Clemens’ trial to stage a tragedy, the destruction of a legend that for all intents and purposes was already convicted in the court of public opinion. Instead, the People v. Roger Clemens will go down as one of the most laughable affairs in recent memory, a Ryan Leaf-sized bust of a prosecution, the most underwhelming fight since Peter McNeely’s corner threw the towel against Mike Tyson.

The trial lasted all of two days (not even).  On Day 1, the prosecution mentioned the human growth hormone admissions of Andy Pettite, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton, all of which wore Yankee uniforms with Clemens. The judge in the case, Reggie Walton, warned the prosecution not to use others as a tool to sway the jurors, stating that the proof against the three Yankees had nothing to do with the Clemens case and ruling that evidence as inadmissible.

The next day (Thursday), the prosecution showed a videotape telling jurors that Pettite told his wife, Laura Pettite that he had a conversation with Clemens, where The Rocket admitted steroid use.  The judge immediately walked off the court, and, after some other legal detailing, granted a mistrial.  The trial’s jury selection lasted three days; the trial itself – less than 48 hours.

It was a bungle even the judge admitted “a first year law student” wouldn’t make. The prosecution chose conjecture over admissible evidence to convict Clemens, hoping only to sway jurors’ opinion based upon slanderous libel and not hard, conclusive evidence. Even if the Yankees’ admission convincingly suggests that Clemens took steroids, and even if Laura Pettite had that conversation, there is no way to prove that either concretely showed Roger Clemens took performance-enhancing drugs.

Before you accuse me of backing up Clemens, I’ll be the first to admit that Roger probably took them. I think he’s still a Hall of Famer, but that’s another article for another day, (I also don’t think steroid users should be excluded from the Hall…again, another argument for another day). Yet, even if he didn’t take the juice until he was in Toronto or New York, Clemens is still a Hall of Famer, according to a decent amount of MLB or baseball fans, but truthfully, he was kind of a jerk.

It’s only conjecture, and unless someone had hard evidence (i.e. Brian McNamee’s needles and gauze), then it’s impossible to convict and even if the trial had gotten to the point of calling McNamee for evidence, it’s impossible to say Roger would’ve had a fair shake. That’s what the judge decided, and that’s where Clemens got off.

There’s a possibility now that Clemens will not be tried at all under the policy of “double jeopardy.” Any other case against Clemens conceivably will have the smear from the first trial, and it’s possible to argue that he will never be tried or convicted. That means the prosecutorial indiscretion of this case allows Roger Clemens to walk away completely unscathed, even if his legacy is toasted more than it already was.

This is where drama becomes comedy.

We are less than two weeks removed from a prosecutorial foul-up in a murder trial in Florida. The trial against Casey Anthony led the legal eagles on television to state that it wasn’t so much a defense that won the trial as it was a prosecution that screwed it entirely up. That led to a verdict of “not guilty,” and somebody who most admit probably had something to do with the death of her daughter walked away.  To the jurors, there was no way they could convict someone and potential sentence that person to death when the case was based on circumstantial evidence.

How can we believe the Clemens case was any different? It’s not as severe as a death penalty case, but we cannot believe that Clemens would be entitled to a fair and speedy trial by his peers based off how this one went. That means all the taxpayer money spent investigating, hearing, investigating again, indicting, and now trying Roger Clemens was essentially wasted. All those hours of work by Congressional lawmakers, special investigators, and television and radio analysts – undone in less than two days by a federally-funded and staffed United States attorney who made a mistake that a “first year law student” wouldn’t have been dumb enough to make.

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

I’m not mad about the Clemens trial and at this point, I don’t really care if he took steroids. I’d rather federal funding go to healthcare, schools, and job creation. I’d rather the country spend its money elsewhere than by taking another run at Roger Clemens, one man who made millions of millions of dollars just to provide us with entertainment. But, if nothing else, I will always look back on this case and laugh because it captivated me with so much drama and then captivated me with how laughable it became.

On February 10, 1992, Mike Tyson was convicted of raping Desiree Washington and sentenced to six-years in prison followed by four years of probation. At the time, Tyson was in the works to regain a heavyweight championship he had lost in a bout many called a fluke against Buster Douglas. Promoters planned a massive draw of Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield before the loss to Douglas, and the prospect of a Tyson-Holyfield fight was one of those super-fights, which comes around once every generation. The loss to Douglas took away the air of invincibility that nobody could beat Tyson, and it actually made the Holyfield fight that much sexier to promoters. Instead, Tyson went to jail for a violent crime.

In 1995, Tyson was released on parole. When he exited, the questions surrounded if he could still fight or if he got too rusty being in jail.  Either way, the aura around a boxer convicted of a violent crime like rape made Tyson that much more of an intimidating draw.  For his first fight, which was sure to be a draw unto itself just for those dramatic reality reasons, Don King and his promotion company lined up “Hurricane” Peter McNeely, a blue-collar Irish fighter from Medfield, Massachusetts. McNeely famously talked trash to Tyson in the weeks leading up to the fight, but Tyson stayed silent. The duo’s respective actions raised dramatic questions about who would win the fight. Was McNeely for real? Would he be just like Buster Douglas and train his life off for this chance?  Did Tyson still have it?  Why was he so quiet? McNeely wanted to go toe-to-toe with Tyson – imagine how big of a bloodbath that particular fight have been?  Were we gearing up for Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns type proportions?

Less than two minutes into the first round, Tyson knocked McNeely down twice, and manager Vinnie Vecchione stopped the fight. All the drama became a joke, and it stands as one of my television watching highlights of all time. It was a flop, made all the more hilarious by the way that McNeely caved like an accordion to Tyson’s punches. Tyson was still a criminal and a bad, bad man in the public eye, and we actually hated him for a long time after that because of how savagely he acted (the Holyfield fight-and-bites were up next, but his push to the stratosphere of hate started when he came out of prison).

For what it’s worth, the People v. Roger Clemens – same real life, same drama, same hilarious ending…  think Hollywood could do that?

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