Bill Clinton Tried to Strong Arm Yankees into Fighting Drug War, Documents Reveal

By Shawn Dwyer 06/10/14

Declassified documents from the Clinton Administration show the zealousness of the former president’s war on drugs.

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Clinton back in the day. Shutterstock

According to newly released declassified documents, former President Bill Clinton sought the help of the New York Yankees and its then-principal owner George Steinbrenner in fighting the war on drugs.

The documents were written by then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, now the embattled mayor of Chicago, and show how the administration in a sense tried to muscle the sports franchise into helping wage the war on drugs.

It was 1995 and the Yankees had just signed Darryl Strawberry to a short-term contract despite the all-star slugger testing positive for cocaine just months earlier. Emmanuel had been discussing the issue with Larry Brown, who was then the Director of the Office of National Drug Policy under Clinton, and expressed in no uncertain terms the administration’s displeasure with the signing.

“I have been working with Director Lee Brown on his statements about Darryl Strawberry and the Yankees,” Emmanuel wrote. “He did a very good job representing our principles and explaining why we oppose a two-time drug user being admitted back onto the field.”

At the time, the Clinton administration was seeing a precipitous drop in violent crime since its peak in 1991 and wanted to do everything it could to continue pushing those numbers down.

Emmanuel’s document listed three demands specifically targeted at the Yankees: one, they wanted Strawberry to perform community service with young people; two, they requested that the team set up some kind of “franchise-wide standard,” though what that meant was never explained; and three, they wanted Steinbrenner to contribute financially to a drug program of Brown’s choosing.

While the documents remained classified for almost 20 years, the Clinton administration did publicly chastise the Yankees at the time of the signing. “The Yankees have struck out by signing Darryl Strawberry,” Brown said at the time. “They are sending the worst possible message to the youth of America: That if you use drugs, you can be rewarded with big money in big-time sports.”

Apparently, Steinbrenner ignored the administration’s demands and went on to win two World Series with Strawberry, while Clinton went on to oversee a steep decline in violent crime despite the Yankees’ non-compliance.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.