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Clemens makes his pitch, but skeptics aren’t convinced

Roger Clemens
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens says he’s innocent. But will people believe him?

First the YouTube denial. Then the “60 Minutes” interview with Mike Wallace. Then the lawsuit against his main accuser. Then the rather strange tape-recorded conversation with his main accuser replayed for the media.

Baseball star Roger Clemens and his attorneys are employing a high-profile, high-risk legal and public relations strategy intended to salvage his reputation and keep prosecutors at bay. But will it work?

Will the public believe that the seven-time Cy Young Award winner didn’t take steroids and human growth hormones as his former trainer Brian McNamee alleged in the Mitchell report? And will Clemens, who refused to talk to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and his investigators who prepared the report on steroid use among major leaguers, be able to keep his story straight in front of Congress and lawyers taking his deposition in lawsuits?

So far, anyway, Clemens has not convinced the skeptics.

A whiff on ’60 Minutes’
“If McNamee is to be believed, you did what a lot of us would have done,” writes Richard Justice in the Houston Chronicle, explaining that McNamee has said he injected Clemens with steroids when his career appeared to faltering. “Now you’re fighting a battle you might not be able to win. During games, you were at your best when things looked hopeless. You worked hitters, umpires, crowds. You almost always found a way. You haven’t shown the same kind of doggedness this time. You want the benefit of the doubt, but you haven’t behaved like someone who deserves it.”

Mark Starr writes in Newsweek.com that “Clemens seems to think the public owes him because he was the greatest pitcher of the modern era when how he became the greatest pitcher of the modern era is exactly what is in question now. And his whiff on ’60 Minutes’ portends an even bumpier time of it for Rocket Roger next week when he is expected to appear — under oath — before a Congressional committee.”

Walter Parker, a communications adviser with PR firm Weber Shandwick, is aghast at Clemens’ public appearances.

“I can’t for the life of me understand the apparent strategy behind talking to your primary accuser, secretly taping that conversation, making it public when the tape adds nothing but a measure of sympathy for the other guy, dismissing the Hall of Fame to the people [reporters] who will vote on your admission and ‘losing it’ and walking out of your own press conference,” Parker told MinnPost.

“Since communication is mostly nonverbal anyway, this is a situation in which less is truly more,” he added. “If it’s not true, say it’s not and look people in the eye. Steadily, calmly, resolutely. Don’t overtalk it, don’t characterize the accuser, don’t add oxygen to the fire. But that denial had better be true. Ask Bill Clinton. If you did it, say nothing or say you’re sorry and live with the consequences.”

The legal defense
And from a legal perspective, the Clemens team, at least at this point, is faring no better, according to Minneapolis libel attorney Paul Hannah. He argued in an interview that he would have advised Clemens to talk to Mitchell. Now that he passed on that option, Clemens probably has no choice but to fight it out in public, a very risky endeavor, Hannah said.

“I listened to him say the trainer injected him with vitamin B12 and lidocaine [a pain killer] and I don’t think people believed him,” Hannah said. “Sooner or later someone is going to catch him [in an inconsistency or misstatement] and then he’s got trouble, then he’s got a Barry Bonds problem, perjury charges.”

One aspect that is bothersome to some people is the belief that Clemens was somehow being smeared in the Mitchell report, accused of misdeeds by one man.

“The idea of due process has indeed been totally flipped on its ear,” writes Michael Geffner in the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., “to where merely being accused of something is taken to quickly, so easily, so unquestioningly as cut-and-dried proof, to where you’re flat-out-guilty until proven innocent, to where by simply having your name appear in an official report is enough to ruin you forever.”

Clemens will be playing perhaps his toughest game in the weeks ahead as he and his lawyers try to convince a disbelieving public that he is innocent while avoiding potentially serious legal problems concerning the statements he makes in his own defense.

Doug Stone is director of College Relations at Macalester College in St. Paul and a former reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune and assistant news director at WCCO-TV. The views in this article are not those of Macalester College.

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