Last night, I watched Roger Clemens on 60 Minutes defending himself against allegations that he ever took steroids or was injected with HGH (Human Growth Hormone). I, for one, believed him. Maybe that’s naïve of me. Maybe I’m a fool for not believing that every single player in professional sports today is using HGH, which is undetectable.
Perhaps I’m a romantic, but I suppose I’d like to cling to the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty for just a while longer. It seems to me that as a society, we tend to believe what the media sells and that the media sells controversy because we all love a scandal don’t we?
Last night he looked Mike Wallace in the eye, looked the sports world in the eye and said that he never took steroids or HGH. He said that his accuser, who is a criminal, was flat out lying about his involvement and use of those drugs, and while that’s not enough, for me at least, it will keep me from making a judgment against him until a time when some kind of proof can be established.
Proof. It’s funny how it’s become irrelevant. It’s amazing how proof has become only the final step, the closure, the I told you so spark, that comes at the end of an accusation. It is no longer necessary for an accusation itself to be made and I worry for a society where proof is such an unnecessary commodity in the conviction of one and other.
I look to the case of Drew Peterson, who has been convicted in the public eye of killing his wife Stacy. Everyone knows he’s guilty. They just don’t have the evidence. I’ll admit, the media has me convinced as well. The police seem to know he did it, but cannot prove so. That’s enough for the media, hungry for a story. He’s not a likable man. His previous wife died under curious circumstances. He just comes off as the kind of guy who could kill his wife. He’s not a media darling. He doesn’t show sympathy or sadness the way we want and expect him to show it.
Guilty. He must be guilty. He doesn’t act the way I would act. He’s guilty.
The truth is, he probably is guilty, but I’ll tell you one thing. I would love for Stacy Peterson to show up on a beach in Cancun with a cabana boy named Carlos. I’d love to see that happen.
You see, the police knowing that someone is guilty isn’t enough. They have to prove it. Roger Clemens being accused of taking steroids isn’t enough. Someone has to prove it and not only prove it, but do so beyond reasonable doubt, before it’s so. That’s the system we’ve set up. That’s what keeps us from repeating infamous parts of our history such as the Salem Witch Trials.
Of course being convicted in a court of law and sent to jail is a horrible thing, but it’s just. Being convicted in the media and shunned by society, not being able to get a job, having your neighbors, maybe even your family treat you like someone who has committed a terrible crime is a horrible sentence for someone who’s never been proven guilty to have to suffer.
To this day we all walk around with a smirk, we nod and wink when we think back to the OJ Simpson trial. We all know that he’s guilty. Take a step back from what you know though. Now imagine that all kinds of circumstance actually did conspire against him. Imagine, no matter how hard it is to do so, that all media proof to the contrary, that he really was and is innocent of the murder of his wife.
Think of the life he’s had to live since then. Think of the ridicule. Think of the torment. Imagine having to endure what he’s had to endure, if you were innocent and wrongly accused. What a horrible way to have to live.
The fact of the matter is that in our court system, we are innocent until proven guilty. Our accusers do have to provide evidence, proof of our guilt and that proof must be believable beyond reasonable doubt. There is a chance for fair treatment. There is a chance for justice. It’s far from perfect, this system of ours, it’s as flawed as can be. Innocent people are convicted all of the time. Guilty people go free. But if we don’t hold our standards to what can or cannot be proven, what does that say of us?
It’s amazing how very little proof we need to make our minds up, especially where celebrities or famous cases are involved. We love to see the mighty fall as much as we love an underdog overcoming overwhelming odds to succeed. I understand the latter, but not the former.
What a sadistic act it is, building a pedestal, setting someone upon it and then laughing as they fall, all without the burden of proof. All, for no other reason than we love a juicy story. We love the drama. We love the excitement.
Truth is dead and proof is inconsequential. And so we go to church, to learn to judge not, lest we be judged, and somehow, aren’t even blinded by our own hypocrisy.