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With Steroids In Sports, It's A Case Of Who Did What



If life is a ball game, Mike Pesca is our umpire, calling the shots as he sees them. Pesca is NPR's sports correspondent and WEEKEND EDITION's guide to the intersections between sports and life, and he joins us now. Hey, Mike.


MARTIN: OK. So, this week baseball in the headlines and steroids - back in court again. Give us a rundown of what's happened.

PESCA: This is the trial of Roger Clemens, part two; Clemens accused of taking steroids to help him with his performance, and then lying to Congress and federal investigators about it. And a big thing that happened during the trial is that a witness who was to be a star prosecution witness, Andy Pettitte - Clemens' friend and longtime teammate, though not much a friend now - a man who is seen as unimpeachable and without an ax to grind - was supposed to have testified that Roger Clemens in fact told him that he took HGH, human growth hormone. But on the stand, what Pettitte did testify to is there was a 50-50 chance that he didn't remember correctly if Clemens actually told him this.

MARTIN: OK. So what happens now? I mean, key witness doesn't pan out. Where does this leave the prosecution?

PESCA: There's still physical evidence. Roger Clemens's trainer, Brian McNamee, saved syringes and saved cotton balls, and it's going to have Roger Clemens's DNA mixed with some performance-enhancing drugs. And there's testimony - some of Pettitte's testimony is also damaging; and there is McNamee's testimony. But now, much more of it will rely on Brian McNamee's word against Roger Clemens' word. And prosecution will have a harder time pointing to the Andy Pettitte testimony and saying, that says it all; that's all you need to know.

MARTIN: So I imagine that you might have some thoughts on all of this. Have you been able to draw any kind of bigger conclusion about sports steroids cases?

PESCA: I have noticed that the athletes who have been convicted, or who have been forced to cut deals that they didn't seem that happy with, seem to be athletes of lesser means than the ones who fought it very aggressively. I mean, the three athletes who brought it to trial - a cyclist by the name of Tammy Thomas lost totally on her case of lying to prosecutors. She's very upset. She says she wants to be a lawyer and since this will be on her record, this probably will stop her from ever passing the bar exam, she reasons.

But, you know, Barry Bonds, he's made $188 million in his career. He took the case to trial and he was only found guilty of one, very lesser charge. He's appealing it but even if the sentence holds, it will only be 30 days of home detention. He has a very nice home. And here, you have Roger Clemens. And I think the baseball world was saying, why was Roger Clemens going to trial? Roger Clemens has made $150 million in his career.

My point isn't just that this buys good representation. Athletes who have that kind of money usually have servants, and usually have an entourage. And in both of these cases, they had trainers.Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' trainer, just wouldn't cooperate with prosecutors. It really held up the prosecution.

MARTIN: So you're saying these people - the more people you have in your entourage, you get distance from any kind of alleged crime?

PESCA: That's a good way to put it. I mean, I think if you look at both the Clemens trial - we don't know how that will turn out - the Bonds trial; Bonds didn't technically win, but he's not going to serve jail time. Where it caught a snag was on the trainer because Brian McNamee, Roger Clemens' trainer, perhaps in the minds of a jury, they could think he has his own agenda. They could think he's cutting a deal and lying just to stay out of jail. Other people - Tammy Thomas, Marion Jones - they were asked to inject themselves, you know. They don't have that buffer. And in some of these legal cases, having that buffer helps in a court of law.

MARTIN: We'll leave it there. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.


MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.