Ever had someone spit in your face and tell you it’s raining? That’s how it felt watching former Senator George Mitchell’s press conference on steroid use in Major League Baseball. The former Senate majority leader unleashed his “investigative findings” in the somber, deliberate tones of an exhausted undertaker. Mitchell strained to heap scorn upon baseball owners and the player’s union for being “slow to act.” Yet beneath the surface, his report is ugly, sanctimonious fraud, meant to absolve those at the top and pin blame on a motley crew of retired players, trainers and clubhouse attendants. This is truly the old saw of the magical fishing net that captures minnows but lets the whales swim free.
Sanctioned by commissioner Bud Selig’s office, the Mitchell Report was seen by some as an unprecedented act in sports: a $20 million internal investigation aimed at rooting out “performance enhancing drugs and human growth hormones” in the game.
The Mitchell Report certainly gives off a sexy sizzle. It names names: including MVPs Mo Vaughn, Miguel Tejada and Barry Bonds, and former all-stars like Eric Gagne and Lenny Dykstra. It also names a man being called the Moby Dick to Mitchell’s Ahab: seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens. For some time, people in the game have whispered about Clemens being on the juice. And for some time, the 45-year-old Clemens denied all charges, as a compliant media lapped it up. As Yahoo Sports’s Dan Wetzel wrote, “Year after year he peddled the same garbage, Roger Clemens was so dominant for so long because he simply outworked everyone. It played to the nation’s Puritan roots, made Clemens out to be this everyman maximizing his skills through singular focus, dedication and a commitment to drinking carrot juice, or something. It’s all gone now, the legend of Rocket Roger dead on arrival of the Mitchell Report; one of the greatest pitchers of all time, his seven Cy Young’s and 354 career victories lost to history under a pile of lies and syringes.”
The Mitchell Report confirms not only suspicions about Clemens but also the existence of an outrageous media bias and double standard. Seven-time MVP Barry Bonds has been raked over the conjectural coals for years, but Clemens got a pass. Two players, both dominant into their 40s, one black and one white, with two entirely different ways of being treated. It doesn’t take Al Sharpton to do the cultural calculus.
And yet flaying Clemens shouldn’t excuse the whitewash. There are three fundamental problems with the Mitchell report:
1. Mitchell himself.
Best known before today for helping negotiate the peace deal in Northern Ireland, Mitchell has a massive conflict of interest when it comes to baseball. He is on the boards of both the Boston Red Sox and, until recently, the Walt Disney Company. Disney owns ESPN, baseball’s number-one broadcast partner. Sportscaster and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has spoken out about how in the 1990s, ESPN execs encouraged him not to state his suspicions about steroid use on-air. As Morgan said, “I would be broadcasting a game and there would be players hitting balls in a way that they had no business hitting them.”