How Roger Clemens, Roger Goodell Represent Different Ideas of American Justice

Steve HerzContributor IJune 20, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18:  Former all-star baseball pitcher Roger Clemens (C) and his legal team, including attorneys Rusty Hardin (2nd R) and Michael Attanasio (L), leave the Prettyman U.S. Court House after Clemens was found not guilty on 13 counts of perjury and obstruction June 18, 2012 in Washington, DC. The former Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees pitcher's original trial in 2011 was declared a mistrial after the judge said the prosecution presented inadmissible testimony that prejudiced the jury. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens was on trial for making false statements, perjury and obstructing Congress when he testified about steroid use during a February 2008 inquiry by the House Oversight and Government Affairs.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This week in a courtroom in Washington, a jury of his peers—by that I mean 12 American citizens who believe in the concept of American jurisprudence and due process, not a dozen fire-balling pitchers—exonerated Roger Clemens of perjury.

It was, whatever one thinks of Clemens, a victory for the premise of innocent until proven guilty.  

Ironically, while one Roger walked away a free man after many years and millions spent defending himself, another Roger—NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell—is serving as judge, jury and executioner in the infamous Bountygate scandal that surrounds the New Orleans Saints.  

Granted, Jonathan Vilma, the Saints linebacker, who has been suspended for the year, is not at risk of losing his freedom as the penalty would have been for Clemens. Nevertheless, the deprivation of one's livelihood and reputation without a fair hearing should not be taken lightly.

We have seen quite a few athletes brought up on charges that have proven flimsy; we've seen other cases in which the prosecution is relentless in pursuing such charges. 

Just last week, more charges and allegations were leveled at Lance Armstrong. Athletes are an easy mark, and many fans relish in their fall. While we may take glee in the poetic justice that accompanies their comeuppance, all of our rights are eroded when any citizen—no matter how wealthy or entitled—is denied his. 

To paraphrase a famous quote by the German pastor Martin Niemoller, which he made in reference to Nazi Germany: First they came for the Duke lacrosse players but I didn't play lacrosse, so I didn't speak up. Then they came for the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, but I wasn't a pitcher so I didn't speak up. Then they came for the seven-time Tour de France winner, but I didn't ride a bike, so I didn't speak up.

Now, they are coming for the three-time Pro-Bowl linebacker (Vilma), and even though I don't play football, is there still time to speak out?  

Sports are a diversion from the real problems of society, yet sports also can teach us a lot about ourselves—about effort, character.  

Many books have been written about why sports are so much more than just games. When sports fans think of "Justice", they are likely to think of the power-hitting outfielder David Justice as they are to think of the Bill of Rights.

Hopefully, the events of the past week will make people stop and think about the words they are singing before every game, especially the "Rockets Red Glare," which is what saved Roger Clemens in that Washington courtroom this past week.