King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Roger Clemens comes out swinging, but he's right: He's guilty until proved innocent. Plus: NFL playoffs.


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King Kaufman
January 7, 2008 5:00PM (UTC)

Roger Clemens told Mike Wallace that he's angry he isn't getting the benefit of the doubt in the wake of accusations in the Mitchell Report that Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone.

"Twenty-four, 25 years, Mike," Clemens said in a "60 Minutes" interview taped late last month and aired Sunday night, "you'd think I'd get an inch of respect. An inch. How can you prove your innocence?"

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You can't. That's the answer. I feel for Clemens on that point. I really do. I'm also not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I don't really care whether he used performance-enhancing drugs. I believe the suddenly tireless inquiry into who juiced is tiresome and pointless. If Roger Clemens used PEDs, he was solidly in the mainstream of his work culture.

The real contribution of the Mitchell Report isn't the gotcha headline fodder about who shot what into whose tush, it's the methodical illustration of the way drug use was at least benevolently ignored and at most actively encouraged throughout baseball for years, with only some medical and training personnel sounding notes of warning.

The parties involved -- owners, players, media, fans -- should each accept a share of the blame and move on to more productive things than endless accusations and denials. That was the main recommendation of former Sen. George Mitchell, and it was a good one. It's being ignored.

"Guilty before innocent," an exasperated Clemens said to Wallace. "That's the way our country works now."

That's the way our country works all right. Probably always has. The Salem witch trials happened 270 years before Clemens was born, though only about 20 miles from the ballpark where he made his bones. That presumption of innocence stuff is just for the courtroom -- and good luck really getting it there. But on the street corner, yeah, there's usually a presumption of guilt if the accusation passes the sniff test, which this one absolutely does.

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While the Mitchell Report is filled with hearsay, it's also just the latest volley in what has become a steady drumbeat of reports and revelations that have shown that drug use has been rampant in major league baseball for more than a decade. Why should we assume that Roger Clemens, who pitched effectively at an unusually late age after having appeared to enter his decline phase almost a decade earlier, bucked the trend?

Clemens' accuser in the Mitchell Report is his former trainer, Brian McNamee. Asked what McNamee would gain by lying, Clemens said, "Evidently, not going to jail."

But McNamee, under federal investigation for drug distribution, had a deal with prosecutors that gave him immunity for any truthful statements he made. He risked jail only if caught in a lie.

McNamee also told Mitchell that he'd injected Clemens' friend and teammate Andy Pettitte with HGH, which Pettitte later admitted was the truth. Clemens is right when he says, "Andy's case is totally separate," but in the court of public opinion -- which is the court Clemens is addressing here -- it's more juice for the presumption of guilt. It's possible McNamee lied about Clemens and told the truth about Pettitte. It just doesn't seem likely.

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And then there's Clemens' own contradictions.

"I'm not going to put something in my body for a quick fix that's going to tear me down," he told Wallace, meaning steroids. But he also said he'd eaten the anti-inflammatory drug "Vioxx like it was Skittles."

He went off on a little side rant about how that drug was pulled from the market in 2004: "Now these people who were supposedly regulating it are telling me it's bad for my heart. I don't know what the future holds because of the medicine that I've eaten, but I trusted that it was not harmful, and I didn't want to put anything in my body that was harmful."

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Does that jibe with popping like Skittles a drug with a maximum recommended dosage of 50 milligrams a day? Maybe, somehow. But on my street corner it doesn't sound like Clemens is exactly religious about treating his body like a temple. His story about dosing up with painkillers so he could pitch a World Series game with "a small tear in my hamstring and a golf ball in my elbow" suggests that he was willing to go to any lengths to get himself ready to compete at the highest level.

That's an admirable trait. But it's not one that suggests its owner wouldn't do steroids.

Give Clemens credit. He's out there fighting the accusations. On Monday he filed a defamation lawsuit against McNamee and he was scheduled to meet the press. He's also weighing an invitation to appear before the same grandstanding congressional panel that so memorably grilled Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and others two years ago.

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Those two have disappeared, and they've become pariahs. So that method doesn't work. Clemens is trying the guns a-blazing method. It's worth a try, but I don't think it'll work either, which Clemens seems to understand.

"The people that are out there that have been saying the things they've been saying, I don't know if I'll ever swing their opinion," he said to Wallace. "I'll do everything I can to prove them wrong, and I still don't know if that's good enough."

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NFL wild-card playoffs [PERMALINK]

Something went very wrong with this weekend's NFL playoff games: All four were won by the team picked by this column to do so.

Investigations are ongoing.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' 31-29 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers was the best game of the bunch. The Seattle Seahawks routed Washington 35-14, ending that team's emotional late-season run. The New York Giants rode their pass rush and an efficient performance by Eli Manning to a 24-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And the San Diego Chargers overcame a sludgy first half -- and an ugly 3-0 halftime deficit -- to beat the Tennessee Titans in the rain, 17-6.

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None of the four winners looked good enough to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents next week. Then again, the New England Patriots excepted, none of those opponents, who were all off this round, are fear-inducing either, though they're all good teams. The Indianapolis Colts went 13-3 and are the defending Super Bowl champs, and yet somehow they don't seem like a team that makes opponents' knees knock.

The Colts will host San Diego in the divisional round, while the Jaguars go to New England, the Giants visit their divisional rivals the Dallas Cowboys, who swept them this year, and the Seahawks go to Green Bay to play the Packers.

This column is already on the record as taking the chalk on all four games.

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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