Liar, Liar, Who's the Liar?

On February 13, the hottest ticket in Washington, D.C. was the Capitol Hill hearing room where baseball's winningest active pitcher and multiple Cy Young Award winner, Roger Clemens, was testifying about steroids. 

Every network led its news broadcast with dramatic footage of Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, contradicting each other, under oath, about whether Clemens had ever used steroids or Human Growth Hormone (HGH). And every network echoed what America is thinking.

Somebody is lying. 

The networks called on their legal analysts to comment on the fact that the CIA and FBI were in the room listening to the testimony and that whoever lied under oath in testimony before Congress could possibly go to jail for perjury. Each network echoed the refrain of, “It's a case of he said, he said,” indicating that it was a toss up as to whose testimony was more believable. 

The Washington Post had a slightly different take on the sordid mess.  In a piece which ran in the Style section of the February 14 edition, DeNeen Brown asked a broader question:  how much is our culture of “enhanced expectations” to blame for the steroid scandal that has infected and impacted sports as a whole?

Brown wrote about the revolving-door aspect of the Clemens hearing, describing how baseball fans and the curious were ushered into the hearing in 20-minute rotations to see it first-hand.  Over the course of the testimony Brown interviewed several teenaged boys about their perceptions of the scandal and the cultural forces that may be, at least somewhat, responsible.  Here is what they said:

·        Waiting his turn to squeeze in to see the Clemens spectacle, Jonathan Wagner, 16, an 11th grader from Reading, Pa., says, "I think fans expect them to perform at the highest level. They feel pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs. Society puts pressure on them to be almost perfect. Sometimes it's hard to do that on their own. I'm a high school athlete, and it's a lot of pressure for me. I can't imagine the pressure on the professional stage. There is competition to be better than everybody else."

·        Outside the hearing room, Tyler Walker, 16, a 10th-grade student from Green Cove Springs, Fla., is waiting. He thinks fans may have a small part in the scandal. "The standards we hold them to encourage and pressure them to take actions like use steroids," Tyler says. "I don't think it's an excuse, but I can see where they get pressure to do superhuman actions, to perform superhuman feats."  Tyler leans across the rope that holds back the fans. "Maybe it's in the American psyche," Tyler says. "We want more. We want to see something that is incredible. Maybe there is something bred into the American psyche. That makes us want to see incredible acts. Not just winning. In football, we don't just want to see them kick the ball, we want to see them hit harder, run faster. In baseball, we don't want to see line drives, we want to see no-hitters. We want to see home runs. We want to see big plays all the time. That creates pressure."

·        Zach Goddard, 16, another 11th-grader from Reading, is cautious: "Fans love them. But they want to see them at their best. Sometimes the best may be above what he can do. They want him at his best naturally. If they don't know he's using steroids, they don't care. All they want to see is the sweet plays."

Sometimes the voices of our children speak louder than the cacophony of allegations, accusations, testimony and legalese. We have a generation of children growing up who expect athletes to cheat. How do we teach our kids to be people of good character when their idols do the very things we tell them are wrong?  Whether through sports stars or entertainers, the media expose our children daily to stories about celebrities who lie, cheat, do drugs, drive drunk, have kids out of wedlock and bring shame on themselves in new and creative ways almost every day. It is a gargantuan effort to counterprogram those messages.

It will be some time before investigators determined who lied and the Clemens steroid scandal is put to rest.  In the meantime professional baseball has been tarnished. In fact all professional sports have been tarnished.  And any future athletes who perform exceptionally will have clouds of doubt hanging over their heads.  It's time for sports fans to look in the mirror and ask themselves what they've done to contribute to the mess. As one of the young men quoted in the Post's story said, “We want to see big plays all the time.”  The question that follows should be, “At what cost?”

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.