Commentary

Large legal stakes at play for Clemens, McNamee at congressional hearing

Updated: January 4, 2008, 8:29 PM ET
By Lester Munson | ESPN.com

A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has asked Roger Clemens; his former trainer, Brian McNamee; and others to appear at a hearing Jan. 16. The hearing would come a day after Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, baseball union head Donald Fehr and former Sen. George Mitchell appear before the same committee. The hearings and the list of witnesses raise questions. Here are some of them and their answers:

What is the significance of the committee's request?

Asking Clemens and McNamee to testify under oath before the committee about McNamee's assertion that he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs is important for two reasons. First, it shows that Congress is seriously concerned about the use of these drugs. It is, of course, good politics to take a stand against steroids. But calling on Clemens and McNamee takes the committee to a new level of investigation. The committee has parachuted into the center of a hotly contested and current dispute. Second, it will be the first time that Clemens and McNamee tell their conflicting stories under oath. It is one thing to make an accusation in the media -- those often go away in a day or two. But it is a vastly different thing to make the accusation under oath before a congressional committee. If either Clemens or McNamee is caught in a falsehood, he could be prosecuted for perjury or contempt of Congress. They would be serious felony charges, and they would not go away in a day or two.

Will there be any lasting effect or legislation as the result of these hearings?

Yes, there could be significant outcomes from these hearings. The steroids hearing conducted by the same committee in 2005 started out as a combination of political posturing and theatrics. But Mark McGwire's disastrous testimony and other developments quickly resulted in huge pressures on Major League Baseball to take definitive action on steroids. As the result of that hearing, the owners and the players' union realized they must take a different approach, and they quickly put together changes in the union contract that banned numerous drugs and provided serious penalties. These new hearings indicate that Democrats and Republicans want MLB to do more. These hearings could lead Selig to dish out suspensions to players named in Mitchell's report on drug use in baseball, and could lead to more bargaining and more serious penalties for drug use.

Why are the hearings scheduled for two days? Why not have all the witnesses appear on the same day?

Political leaders of both parties love to see themselves in sports media. It is terrific exposure. President Bush called for an end to the steroid epidemic in his State of the Union address in 2003. Then Tom Davis, R-Va., led the hearings that featured McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a highly respected leader in the House, has joined the fight, initiating these new hearings. Two days of hearings mean two days of stories about political leaders who are fighting against performance-enhancing drugs.

Will these hearings be different from the 2005 hearings?

Yes. In the 2005 hearings, the committee somehow reached the conclusion it would not ask Barry Bonds to testify despite powerful evidence of his use of drugs. Bonds was the first name mentioned in any discussion anywhere about steroids, but the committee did not invite him to testify. Davis and other leaders of the committee thought it would be too controversial. But now, under the leadership of Waxman, the committee will be right in the middle of the hottest controversy in sports. Waxman will be digging deeper, looking for answers to tough questions. He is not avoiding anything. Clemens and McNamee will sit side by side at a table in front of an array of two dozen politicians who can ask them any question they choose. It promises to be dramatic. Both men can tell their conflicting stories before a vast audience, and we'll all have a chance to decide who is telling the truth.

Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.