Congress Hears Boos Over Sports Probes

In recent months, C-Span viewers could be forgiven for thinking that they were watching ESPN instead.

With the Roger Clemens hearing, the investigation into the New England Patriots cheating scandal, and the uproar over the NFL forbidding Super Bowl broadcasts in churches, Congress is spending a lot of time on sports lately. And critics are claiming that with issues such as the Iraq War, a slumping economy, and a devastating housing crisis, the nation's lawmakers are wasting their time, to say nothing of taxpayer dollars.

Even Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., regretted holding the Clemens hearing.

But that hasn't stopped his colleagues. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is using words like stonewalling — usually reserved for major league obstructionists like the White House — to describe the NFL's lack of cooperation into his Judiciary Committee's probe into whether the New England Patriots cheated.

Specter has also vowed to personally sit in on any grillings by his committee to make sure no softball questions are thrown at Patriot officials.

And today, House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Trade and Consumer Protection has summoned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and NBA commissioner David Stern for yet another hearing.

"I think that leagues should police themselves," said USA Today columnist and ABC News consultant Christine Brennan. "I understand how senators and congressmen and women can get all up in arms about sports because everyone does — that's the nature of sports. But I think they should leave the cheering to fans in some of these instances."

Waxman's hearing on Feb. 13 was a remarkable spectacle featuring a dozen members of Congress grilling Roger Clemens and his main accuser to determine whether Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs. The panel is now deciding whether to refer a possible perjury case to the Department of Justice.

Some committee members called the Clemens hearing a waste of time.

"Congress shouldn't reduce itself to the kind of kangaroo court spectacle we saw at the Roger Clemens hearing," committee member Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told ABC News. "Holding that hearing was unwise and unnecessary."

"I don't like to see Congress doing this," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind. "This doesn't seem to be something that I think Congress should be doing."

"I understand the argument of 'What is Congress doing?'" said Brennan. "These people are spending tax dollars and talking about Roger Clemens … I understand why people in Des Moines and Albuquerque would throw up their hands and say, 'These are our tax dollars at work?'

"But I think athletes are significant role models for children and if there are kids are who are taking performance-enhancing drugs because of what they perceive is going on in baseball or other sports, then I think it's definitely within the purview of Congress to look into it," Brennan said.

Specter, a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, became involved with the issue in November when he wrote to NFL commissioner Goodell about the Eagles' loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, a game that Specter attended.

After the Patriots and their coach Bill Belichick were punished early in the 2007 season for illegally videotaping a game against the New York Jets, Specter wondered if the Patriots had cheated in their victory over the Eagles. When Goodell didn't reply, Specter persisted. And Specter persisted even further to find out why Goodell had destroyed tapes confiscated as part of the Patriots investigation.

"We intend to pursue the matter," Specter promised.

Specter, who is used to fighting Democrats over the selection of Supreme Court justices, is sensitive to criticism of his un-Patriotic campaign, and on Feb. 15 sent a letter to constituents to tamp down the boos.

"The record shows that while I spent a little time on this in the course of the last couple of weeks, I have introduced legislation on the economic stimulus package, I have pressed a major amendment on the terrorist surveillance program, been confirming federal judges, introduced legislation on subprime mortgages, and taken care of my duties."

He has also cited the NFL's anti-trust exemption granted by Congress as the reason for Capitol Hill's interest in the story.

"It's one thing to look into the issues that could effect the health and well-being of the children of America," Brennan said. "That's a worthwhile conversation to have anywhere, anytime. But I think when you get into conversations about the Spygate scandal with the Patriots, and Sen. Arlen Specter … looking at this as a fan of one of the teams potentially involved, and it kind of brings a smile to your face. It's like, 'All right, is this the nation's business?'"

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has also had to explain himself to constituents for pressuring Goodell about the league's objection to churches broadcasting the Super Bowl on big-screen televisions.

"Congress has a responsibility to ensure copyright law is applied in a fair and consistent way," Hatch told ABC News. "Allowing sports bars to broadcast Super Bowls while barring churches from doing the same did not seem to meet that standard."

There may yet be another Congressional hearing as Specter considers calling for a hearing on the Patriots' spying.

But Specter would encounter a significant obstacle in his way: committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is a Patriots fan.