Copyright 2011 by William A. Mays, Proprietor
       On April 13th, Barry Bonds was found guilty of felony obstruction of justice in the federal government's steroid investigation. The jury, however, could not arrive at a verdict regarding whether Bonds had lied about taking steroids and HGH. But to paraphrase former baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, regardless of the indecision of juries, the fact that Barry Bonds knowingly and regularly took steroids is well established. Bonds's steroid use, however, is not the issue here. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, if you were a major-league baseball player and didn't take steroids then you should have found another line of work. The use of steroids was so widespread and their benefits so obvious, it would have made anyone mull over whether they should try them or else get squeezed out of the game by the herd of pumped-up players stampeding toward performance enhancement. The clincher, of course, was not just the blind eye, but the tacit approval shown by everyone supposedly in charge. Team owners and major-league executives never investigated—in spite of warnings and evidence—and actually applauded the results. Like the soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who sadistically tortured inmates for kicks and those of Bravo Company of the 5th Stryker Brigade in Afghanistan who randomly killed civilian children for fun, baseball players of that era perceived an utter lack of proper guidance and control from above, which in all cases led to a rudderless, Wild West atmosphere in which bad behavior was not just allowed but encouraged, and those who might have wanted to stop the madness had nowhere to turn.
       So yes, Barry Bonds did steroids and lied about it. But that is not why we excoriate him here—we consider Jose Canseco, for example, a most upstanding fellow. It is that throughout American history our sports greats have almost always been as respected for the manner in which they carried themselves as for their athletic achievements. Babe Ruth was one of the most, if not the most, gregarious and convivial characters in the annals of sport. His teammate Lou Gehrig was the picture of the affable and unassuming. Later, the first man to break Ruth's record, Hank Aaron, would pick up where the tragic Gehrig had left off—their first and middle names were even the same: Henry Louis.
       Other sports have been similarly blessed: The soft-spoken Wayne Gretzky in hockey, the cocky yet personable Michael Jordan in basketball. Even the loose-woman-laden Tiger Woods in golf maintains a level of respect and dignity. Then there's the beloved, Gehrig-like—in more ways than one—Walter Payton in football. And the great Jerry Rice also holds his own in the personality department.
       But when it comes to Barry Bonds, words like gregarious, affable, personable, and dignified do not come to mind. In fact, words closer to their antonyms do. However, care must be taken to choose the right word. For example, calling Barry Bonds an "asshole" would require the recategorization of all the other assholes in the world. If Barry Bonds is an asshole, then others saddled with that descriptive would have to be called only "somewhat irksome" from that point forward. Once you mix steroids with a personality that already suggests what it might be like if Pete Rose had autism, you create a recipe for personality disaster. A logical career move for Bonds may be to approach the Broccoli casting directors and seek the role of the next James Bond villain.
       So steroids shmeroids. That whole episode in baseball history is more of a black eye to baseball management than it is to the players involved—with the exception of Barry Bonds. For Bonds, the episode has served to bring into high relief a character that can only leave a bitter taste in the mouth of any sports fan who expects even a modicum of integrity from his heroes.
April 23, 2011
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