It's been a great couple of weeks for those of us who study moralistic, self-important blowhards in their native habitats — i.e., on the radio and in America's corporate offices, in which half of the people are looking for handouts and the other half are looking out for the police.
Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, and Michael Phelps — and their various adventures with substances deemed unworthy of us as a nation — provided bait. And mercy, as the late Ned Martin used to say, it didn’t take long for the sanctimony to hit high tide in so many places. Rarely has what lawyer/blogger Robert Farley calls “The War on (Some People Who Take Some) Drugs” provided so much high hilarity. Where, oh where, does one begin? Let’s start with the really big fish in the really small barrels.
Clemens, Bonds, and Tejada do have something to teach our youngsters, and it has nothing to do with injecting, ingesting, or otherwise availing yourself of substances we consider unworthy of us as a nation. The takeaway lesson is this: If it’s clear that the feds are after your well-punctured hindquarters, don’t lie under oath. Not only will it keep you out of trouble, but it will keep the rest of us from having to deal with cowboy investigators like Jeff Novitzky — whom several federal judges have taken to looking at as though he were a two-headed fish — and Tom Davis, the former congresscritter from Virginia. Davis thinks people lied to him when he was running the congressional committee. Of course, when the names of CIA agents got leaked, and when the Department of Justice was turned into a political chop shop, he didn’t think there was anything for his government oversight committee to oversee. But he’s now very concerned about Roger Clemens. Oh, boy howdy, he is that. He can go away now. If Bonds and Clemens and Tejada had just ’fessed up, we wouldn’t have to deal with any of these people.
Then there’s Phelps, who recently found himself beset by some Gomer with a badge in South Carolina who apparently fancied himself Sonny Crockett, and who pretty plainly wanted to be on TV with Nancy Grace a little too much than is healthy. If you’re keeping score at home, Phelps did nothing that the last three presidents of the United States, at least two Supreme Court justices, and a handful of Nobel laureates have done. (For himself, Phelps has won 14 Olympic gold medals. So much for how marijuana destroys your motivation.) The laws against marijuana in this country are utterly, hopelessly insane — rousting elderly cancer patients in their beds for using a drug that eases their pain and helps them eat? — and the propaganda proceeding from them is even nuttier. This “scandal” is about nothing else except our being a nation of drooling, voyeuristic geeks. I wouldn’t blame the man if he swam for Holland in 2012.
Speaking of being a nation of drooling, voyeuristic geeks, let’s talk about what’s going on with Alex Rodriguez, shall we?
Frankly, I don’t like him very much, either. But ever since word of his steroid use got out, and especially since his chat with ESPN’s Peter Gammons — which reminded nobody of Oriana Fallaci jumping ugly with Fidel Castro — hit the airwaves, he’s become central to a perfect storm of nonsense. Pretty plainly, somebody leaked the results of what were supposed to be confidential drug tests. Now, we are told, the only fair thing is to release the names of the other 103 players who also tested positive in what was supposed to be a confidential testing program. How we remedy a violation of privacy by committing 103 more remains unexplained.
The argument, of course, is that, until we know absolutely everything about absolutely everyone, the rest of the players will be “under a cloud of suspicion.” Well, this is all bollocks, of course, but I heard perhaps the best example of this on our local sports-talk radio colossus over the past weekend. First, on Feb. 13, there was no little sniggering about the possibility that Manny Ramirez will be “one of the names on the list.” The next morning, it was explained to me that the A-Rod revelations made it possible for all of us to speculate wildly about people like Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. In fact, unless we wanted to be “naïve” or not “objective,” we were fairly well obligated to speculate along those lines. Which is the difference between mouths with microphones and what most of the rest of us in this business do.
Make no mistake. Without an ounce of actual proof, these people essentially accused Ramirez, Gwynn, and Ripken of committing federal crimes. (Let me hear no mealy-mouthed rebuttals about how you “weren’t really accusing” anyone. There’s a vast difference between throwing out a relatively baseless opinion in a bar and throwing it out on the public airwaves with 50,000 watts behind it, and you all know it.) There is no “cloud of suspicion” unless we raise it. We’re not all feathers in the breeze. It is possible to cover this story — including opining upon it — the same way you’d cover any other story. Don’t tell me you have a gun and ask for my wallet. If you have the gun, produce it. If not, go work for that sheriff in South Carolina. He really needs the help.
OT columnist Charles P. Pierce is a Boston Globe Magazine staff writer.