Thursday, February 07, 2008

All-Star Sleazefest 2008

With the latest twists and turns in the Roger Clemens and Spygate sagas, I think it's just possible that pro sports are approaching near record levels of sleaze. No, nobody's fixed a championship lately -- that hasn't happened in baseball since the Black Sox, and in football, you've got to go way all the way back to Super Bowl XL before you can find a game where the fix was in.

Nevertheless, Major League Baseball and the NFL are both going through some tough times. Baseball is dealing with the fallout of one of the greatest scandals in its history. Thanks to MLB's decision to look the other way for more than a decade, every record set during the last 15 years will be subject to a mental asterisk among baseball fans. Not only that, but the holder of the game's most hallowed record is under indictment for perjury, and the greatest right handed pitcher of all time is potentially walking the exact same perjury plank. Meanwhile, over in the NFL, the greatest football coach of his generation and the team of the decade have already had their reputations tarnished by a cheating scandal, and are now facing the prospect of having their greatest achievements tarnished by new -- and potentially far worse -- cheating allegations.

To make matters worse, the always helpful United States Congress is getting into the act: Roger Clemens will star in an upcoming Capitol Hill media circus, while the man who gave us the single bullet theory, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, has decided to poke his nose under the NFL's skirts. Several internet sites have offered an intriguing explanation for Specter's sudden interest in the NFL 's dirty laundry - - Comcast's PAC is listed the second largest contributor to Specter's election campaigns, but in actuality, their financial support of the Distinguished Gentleman is probably quite a bit more extensive than that. Comcast, as you probably know, is the nation's largest cable television company, and along with most of the cable industry, is currently engaged in a death struggle with the NFL over the NFL Network.

In terms of pure theater, I've got to give the nod to The Rocket and his "damn the torpedoes" approach over the always cautious and well-advised suits at the NFL. Personally, I think Clemens is probably guilty, but I also think that Clemens is absolutely convinced that if he proclaims his innocence loudly enough, he'll eventually prevail. In any event, the he said/he said between McNamee and him ought to make for an excellent show -- particularly now that it looks like the proverbial blue dress may have just turned up.

Meanwhile, over on Park Avenue, the NFL is reacting to Specter in its usual slick, corporate way. But the powers that be there can't be too thrilled about the prospects of the league's premier franchise getting dragged through the mud. Oh, and the legal stakes are potentially quite high for the Patriots as well, thanks to something called the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, which made it a federal crime to swipe trade secrets. Some are already speculating that a criminal investigation may be in the offing. There are a lot of issues with trying to apply this statute to the Patriots' alleged taping antics, but let's face it, when was the last time that slowed down an ambitious federal prosecutor for more than a nanosecond?

Sure, these are the worst of times when it comes to the integrity of professional sports. Fortunately for the NFL and MLB, while some pundits may bemoan the moral state of sports and what it says about our society, most fans are so jaded that all that these scandals really mean is that they've just found another way to be entertained by their favorite sports during the most boring stretch of the year's sporting calendar. In the 1970s, the TV networks tried to get through this stretch with stupid events like The Superstars, but who needs that when you've got a show like this one? Pass me some popcorn, I'm fixin' to sit down and watch the All-Star Sleazefest until March Madness starts.

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