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The Liars Club

Sports are full of scandals and scoundrels these days

Posted: Thursday February 14, 2008 3:49PM; Updated: Friday February 15, 2008 12:39AM
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On the same day Roger Clemens testified, Roger Goodell met with a U.S. Senator and Kelvin Sampson came under renewed fire.
On the same day Roger Clemens testified, Roger Goodell met with a U.S. Senator and Kelvin Sampson came under renewed fire.
Simon Bruty/SI

If the philosopher Diogenes thought he had trouble finding an honest man in ancient Greece, imagine how frustrated he would have been in the 21st century world of American sports. After watching Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee play "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire" in front of a Congressional panel on Wednesday, it would have been hard to blame him if he'd thrown up his hands, given up the search and headed for Cabo with Jessica Simpson.

It wasn't just the dispiriting scene of one man lying through his teeth about another, under oath, that left us so disappointed. (You can draw your own conclusions as to who was lying about whom, but if you really believe Clemens was more truthful than McNamee, you're probably expecting O.J. to find the real killers any day now.) It's that this steroid dust-up is just the latest of many indications that honesty, the ability to tell the basic and unvarnished truth, is disappearing from sports faster than the $2 hot dog.

On Wednesday alone there seemed to be an epidemic of dishonesty, with some of the evidence crawling across the bottom of the television screen during the Congressional grandstanding, uh, hearing, on Wednesday. Right around the time that Clemens was asking the panel to believe that McNamee had injected Clemens' wife, Debbie, with HGH but not Clemens himself (What? You find that hard to believe?) The TV ticker told viewers that Indiana's basketball program was facing charges of five major NCAA violations, including the allegation that coach Kelvin Sampson provided "false or misleading information" to university officials and NCAA enforcement staff.

In other words, while we were listening to one sports figure (Clemens or McNamee) who quite likely was lying, we were reading about another who might very well have done the same -- a veritable daily double of dishonesty. This is in addition to the ongoing NFL investigation of the New England Patriots' Spygate affair, and Sen. Arlen Specter's investigation into that investigation.

Pats coach Bill Belichick would have us believe that his only violation of league rules was the taping of the Jets' defensive signals last September. One of his former assistants, Matt Walsh, has indicated he has evidence to the contrary. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he wasn't trying to hide anything when he destroyed the tapes documenting Belichick's original transgression, but now Specter says that Goodell told him the Pats' secret videotaping goes back as far as 2000. It's hard to tell exactly who's fibbing about what here, but it's easy to see that it's unlikely that we've heard the full truth about this mess.

With all the news of the Clemens affair, the Indiana investigation and Spygate, let us not forget that depositions are currently being taken in the lawsuit against Reggie Bush, in which Lloyd Lake, a former associate from Bush's college days at USC, alleges that Bush failed to repay him the more than $200,000 he accepted from Lake -- in violation of NCAA rules -- during Bush's college career.

Lake is playing the role of McNamee -- he's a character with a shady past (a former gang member) who nonetheless appears to be telling the truth in this instance, with audio tapes on which Bush's stepfather appears to acknowledge the secret payments. Bush, playing the role of Clemens, is the star who vehemently denies any wrongdoing, even in the face of compelling evidence against him.

Who can we believe in these scenarios? Who knows? It wouldn't be surprising if all of them were shading truth to some extent to suit their agendas. It's difficult to look at just the past few days and not come to the conclusion that our sports are full of scoundrels -- duplicitous men who evade, manipulate or even ignore the truth.

There has been at least one more example of epic dishonesty in recent days -- the sad story of Kevin Hart, a football player from Fernley (Nev.) High who conned his schoolmates, the local media and the rest of his town into believing he had accepted a scholarship from California before it was discovered that Cal had never even recruited him. Hart at first covered up his lie by telling reporters and police that he had been duped by someone pretending to be a Cal recruiter. That bogus story held up for a couple of days, before Hart finally admitted that he had made the whole thing up.

The notoriety Hart gained from the entire situation may yet earn him a chance to play college ball, now that Portland State coach Jerry Glanville has said he would consider giving Hart a spot on his roster. But maybe Hart is setting his sights too low. Given his ability to make people believe a big, fat, whopping lie, the kid is obviously ready for the pros.