Apparently we all missed the good news out of Washington, D.C., this week. It would seem that the nation's critical problems all have been solved. The economy is fine. We're no longer at war in Iraq or against international terrorism. The borders are secure, our cities are safe and prosperous, our bridges aren't falling down and all is well with the world.
What? You say it ain't so? Then why, one wonders, did members of Congress ignore these salient issues last week while spending precious time and energy meddling in the affairs of professional sports leagues? The biggest news from Capitol Hill last week involved lawmakers seeking to fix ongoing problems in baseball and football.
First came the steroid hearings before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that brought in baseball pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, to testify about accusations that the latter injected the former with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
The hearings stemmed from the Mitchell Report, an investigation launched by major league baseball to reveal the ugly truth about a decade or more of steroid abuse by major league players. That's what sports leagues do: police their own concerns. Players and other employees may face discipline for their actions, and in the case of Clemens and a few others, possible banishment from the Hall of Fame.
The hearing made for great drama, and certainly is a key issue for baseball fans. But where does a Committee on Oversight and Government Reform come off sticking its nose in that business? Surely there are actual government agencies in need of oversight and reform that would be a better use of that time than fretting over baseball's problems.
Use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs is a societal problem, to be sure, one that should be addressed by all pro, college and youth sports organizations. Athletes who use such substances set a horrible example for youngsters, and it needs to stop. Rest assured, when great players of this generation begin dying young because the negative health effects of their "juicing up," that will get the message across more effectively than any lecture.
Perhaps steroid use is worthy of legislative attention on a large scale. But prying the particulars out of a handful of athletes and accusers doesn't take that big picture approach. Who cares who injected who with what back when? That doesn't move any closer to solving the problem nationwide.
Move on to issue No. 2 on the front burner, an even greater reach. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has been grilling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell over the league's handling of the New England Patriots' cheating scandal. Last fall, the Patriots were found guilty of videotaping signals from an opposing team's bench, a violation of NFL rules. The coach was fined and the organization punished for their indiscretion.
Apparently, that's not enough for Specter, who has a history in dealing with conspiracies. He served as a junior counsel for the Warren Commission in the 1960s investigating the Kennedy assassination, and is credited as the author of the "single bullet theory." Now Specter has decided there are some shady dealings with how the NFL handled, or mishandled, the evidence in the Patriots case, and he wants to get to the bottom of it. The football equivalent of the grassy knoll, perhaps.
But why? The NFL is a business, or more accurately a cartel of separate franchise interests, that provides an entertainment product we are free to buy or ignore. What vital public interest is at stake?
"We have a right to have honest football games," Specter said. That's a right? Sorry, we missed that one in the Constitution.
Or could Specter's interest perhaps stem from the fact that one of the Patriots' Super Bowl victories came against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team from his home state? A little sour grapes with that whine, senator?
It's all pure posturing. Messing with sports leagues is supposed to let the folks back home know that their leaders are tuned in to what people care about, whether or not they have any true obligation to do so. Solving the economy, the war, immigration, Social Security and other mundane matters of governance brings great risk and sometimes little reward to those in elected office. It's much easier to grab some TV face time chatting with a Hall of Fame pitcher or NFL boss than working on matters of substance, especially in an election year.
Ever watched these Congressional "hearings?" Much of the "questioning" by members of Congress consists of each making a lengthy speech on the subject at hand, and just as their time is about up, they stick in a question or two at the very end. One wonders if they even listen to the answers. It's the very definition of the term, "political theater."
And, by the way, it isn't just legislators in D.C. doing this. In the early days of the state General Assembly session, members spent time drafting a resolution complaining about the college football bowl championship, mostly because some feel the Georgia Bulldogs were shafted by it.
It's all nonsense. Yet sports league bosses know they are beholden to Congress for their antitrust exemptions and other public entitlements, so they sit and take it. That's the only thing that keeps them from telling Specter and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform what they wish they could tell them, and what we'll express on their behalf:
Butt out. Our problems are none of your business. Do something important instead. That's what we're paying you for.