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Published: Saturday, 2/9/2008

Pigskin politics

WITH all the weighty issues facing Congress these days, it's good to know that lawmakers haven't lost sight of what's truly important to the majority of Americans: professional sports.

In recent days, congressional lawyers have deposed baseball stars Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens as Washington attempts to get to the bottom of who injected whom with what and where in its ongoing steroids investigation.

Just last week, on the eve of the Super Bowl, Sen. Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wanted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to explain why he destroyed tapes and notes linked to purported cheating by the New England Patriots.

The issue, he threatened, could put the league's anti-trust exemption at risk.

"I do believe that it is a matter of importance," Mr. Specter said. "It's not going to displace the stimulus package or the Iraq war, but I think the integrity of football is very important, and I think the National Football League has a special duty to the American people - and further the Congress - because they have an anti-trust exemption."

This week, the Pennsylvania Republican is at it again, introducing a bill to protect the right of churches, synagogues, and mosques to show the Super Bowl on big-screen television.

It seems the NFL, in an effort to protect its product, sent letters to some churches warning them that they could be infringing on the league's copyright if they invited fans to worship at the altar of big screens measuring more than about 55 inches or passed the collection plate during the game. Some churches apparently canceled Super Bowl parties, and when Mr. Specter found out he was, as they say, wroth.

"In a time when our country is divided by war and anxious about a fluctuating economy, these types of events give people a reason to come together in a spirit of camaraderie," the senator intoned in a statement undoubtedly worthy of stone tablets.

As one might expect, evangelical lawmakers, as well as some representing Bible Belt districts, lined up to join Senator Specter, and a group of Christian leaders wrote Mr. Goodell to complain, perhaps explaining that it was not the intent of the Founding Fathers to create a wall separating church and sport.

Well, to paraphrase that noted theologian and football enthusiast, William Shakespeare, a plague on both their houses.

Certainly the NFL makes enough millions from the rights to its games, images, clothing, and accessories associated with football teams that it could have turned the other cheek, so to speak, and ignored the church-sponsored events.

And lawmakers, while it may not appear to be the case when they take time out to pursue silliness of this sort, have real issues that deserve their attention, such as reaching agreement on the stalled economic stimulus package.

As for Mr. Specter, one wonders, given his recent attempts to connect pigskins and politics, if he's bucking to be become the nation's first Secretary of Sports.

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