Friday, March 10, 2006

Barry Bonds

Dave Zirin supplies a little perspective on the coverage of the latest round of the Bonds/steroids flap.
I like that he asked congress why they were talking about steroids when people still don't have heat or clean water in New Orleans. Is it self-serving? Sure, but no more self-serving than the writers who sell papers by assessing the size of his body parts like he's some sort of beast. As for whether or not he took steroids, I still believe in something that may seem quaint in Bush's America called the presumption of innocence. But if it is actually proven that he took steroids, then I think its not Bonds that should be on trial - in the court of public opinion or elsewhere - but Major League Baseball.
He also points to the obvious but unspoken racist component of the discussion (for one thing, people calling for him "to be hung", astonishingly). In that sense, along with the fact that he has never played well with the press (and, ok, seems to be kind of personally unpleasant and tone deaf), Bonds is the perfect patsy.

Also, over at Salon, if you don't mind sitting through the ads, King Kaufman characteristically has written one of the more reasonable articles on the matter I've seen.
To me the most important revelation isn't the laundry list of actual drugs Bonds ingested or his schedule of taking them or the emotional and occasionally physical violence his former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, says he committed on her.

It's the fact that Conte, Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson and the rest of the BALCO crowd were so indiscreet and yet so safe from both sports and real-world law enforcement.

These guys were practically erecting billboards on the Bayshore Freeway saying, "We provide steroids to professional athletes!" For years. And it took a disgruntled track coach turning in a used syringe for the authorities to even know the drugs they were pushing existed, never mind that BALCO was pushing them.

Anderson bragged to someone wearing a wire that the massive cocktail of illegal substances he was giving Bonds was undetectable, that an athlete could juice up on the day of a test and not worry about a thing.

That's the story here. Not that the most prominent jerk and steroid abuser in baseball really was a jerk and a steroid abuser. But that law enforcement is so comically behind the drug pushers.

The cops are barely even in the game. How could they be? There's no money in law enforcement. The real money's in the cheating. If there's another BALCO somewhere right now -- and why wouldn't there be? -- the drug cops are almost certainly in the dark about it.

It's a joke to worry about whether Bonds' records have damaged the integrity of the game. Bonds is a hard rain, but for all we know the game's integrity is being washed away by a tsunami of cheating.

So, yeah, I'm having a hard time getting worked up over this story. Maybe it's because my interest in baseball, and professional sports in general, has been on the wane for years. Bonds was one of the few players keeping my interest on the game at all in recent seasons. I find it a little rich for people to be concerned about the integrity of the game at this late date.

I went to the Washington Post site to see if Thomas Boswell had written about it. He has. I half-expected it to be a piece bashing Bonds. To his credit it's not:
The man at the center of the storm now is Barry Bonds. But the true shame belongs to his entire game, especially those who have controlled the direction of the sport in the last dozen years.
He provides some context, bringing up the canceled World Series of 1994 and how the game was "saved" by homeruns.
[A]s public scrutiny and cyber vituperation rain down on Bonds, we should remember that he is just the symptom, not the cause. When sports fundamentally warp themselves out of greed, we never know until later where the long-term damage will manifest itself. When baseball's owners "took a strike" -- ousting conciliatory commissioner Fay Vincent and installing Bud Selig, then a hardliner, to do the deed -- no one dreamed that the greatest damage to the sport would come years later and in an unexpected form.

The true price of the strike was not in canceled games or wasted revenue or a glaring gap in the list of World Series champions. Instead, the greatest toll was taken from the game's credibility, its integrity, its place in the national consciousness as an institution worthy of high and long-held regard.

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