Yesterday, always enjoyable (and smart, which is refreshing) local radio hosts Boers and Bernstein were on the air when the Sammy Sosa story broke. Beyond being a quick boon for ratings, the timing of the news gave the two a chance to revisit Sosa's infamous statement to Congress in 2005, wherein Sosa seemed to pretend not to know English, gave his prepared statement -- in which he denied ever using illegal steroids -- through his lawyer, and answered questions with a confused, "If-I-stare-blankly-at-these-white-dudes-long-enough-maybe-they'll-leave-me-alone" gaze.
If there was one day that sealed Sosa's public fate, that was it. Almost everyone agreed Sosa was on steroids. He was acting too guilty! As of yesterday, we're finally 100 percent sure, but we always were anyway. The question now is: If Sosa denied using steroids in front of Congress, but now has a legally binding positive test on his record, didn't he perjure himself? That was the verdict rendered by Dan Bernstein yesterday, and it seems a reasonable one.
Not so fast. Via Craig Calceterra at Shysterball, upon closer inspection, Sosa may be in the clear. Steroid pun entirely unintended.
This may not be very satisfying to baseball fans, but to anyone with an interest in the law, it's kind of beautiful. Sosa's sworn testimony is a masterwork of legal language. For example, Sosa doesn't issue any blanket denials. His famous denial is worded as such: "To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs." Note the use of the modifier "illegal." He also said: "I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything." Possibly untrue, but also likely impossible to prove, barring some sort of Brian McNamee-esque syringe evidence. And finally, he said: "I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic. I have been tested as recently as 2004, and I am clean." Those statements leave Sosa plenty of wiggle room. While in the Dominican, he might have taken a substance illegal in the U.S., but never took while it inside the U.S., hence breaking no laws.
Calcaterra, who is a lawyer, says Sosa "needed to thread a very tiny needle to keep himself out of legal jeopardy." And that's what his lawyers did. Brilliantly, in fact. (Calcaterra calls it a "legal work of art.") Somehow, they managed to issue a denial that day -- a denial no one believed, sure, but also a denial no one accused of being intentionally vague -- while also protecting their client from future prosecution if his positive test ever leaked. Sosa may have sealed his reputation's fate by conveniently forgetting his English that day, but by sticking close by his lawyers and letting the professionals do his talking for him, he appears to have ultimately saved himself.
If Sammy ever regains that English, he should be sure to tell his lawyers they too have been very, very good to him.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.