Saturday, June 26, 2010

Blog blast past: Putting Bonds into some perspective

U.S. federal prosecutors on Friday decided not to challenge a ruling that tossed out evidence in their case against baseball's home run king Barry Bonds. Between the World Cup, NHL draft and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Edwin Jackson throwing a "lame no-hitter," it probably didn't get much coverage. It seems like the case that was supposed to go to trial 15 months ago is flagging. From Nov. 16, 2007, here's a post from when Bonds was first indicted:

Dave Zirin of the Edge of Sports sums up the lunacy and self-serving hypocrisy of the U.S. Department of Justice (or as he calls it, "Just-Us") vis-a-vis Barry Bonds:
"The actual indictment parses in language that would shame a Clinton. It reads, 'During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes.'

"This is idiocy raised to the level of law. It makes me wonder what they're teaching at Jesus-land Legal Academy these days. Did Bonds actually test positive for steroids or were pharmaceuticals only found in these mysterious un-indicted 'other athletes'? And what is a 'performance enhancer'? That's not even a legal or medical term; it's sports radio shorthand. The cortisone shot into Curt Schilling's ankle in the 2004 playoffs was a performance enhancer. The Viagra coursing through Bob Dole's veins is a performance enhancer. Whatever keeps that smile glued to Laura Bush's face is a performance enhancer. It's a colloquial phrase that tells us nothing. It only raises the question whether the indictment was written by Mike or the Mad Dog."
To a serious person, the Bonds indictment is more laughable than anything else. He's a huge jerk, and no baseball fan outside the Bay Area will miss him.

However, there are no white-hat types here; if anything, Bonds' hat is a lighter shade of gray than that of the people trying to put him in jail. (Thirty years? He won't serve a day.) The same U.S. Department of Justice that's trying to take down Barry Bonds is the same one that authorized torture not too long ago. It's the same legal system that, as Zirin notes, drags its feet on hate crimes against African-Americans.

Consider this the denouement, the final unravelling, of Bush-Cheney America. Like Chuck Klosterman wrote shortly before Bonds surpassed Babe Ruth 18 months ago:
"... it's been a half-decade where many long-standing fears about how America worked (and what America represented) were gradually -- and then suddenly -- hammered into the collective consciousness of just about everyone, including all the people who weren't paying attention to begin with.

"Here was a man" -- Bonds -- "accomplishing unbelievable things ... but we did not really believe or disbelieve; we just sort of watched it happen, and then we watched it get out of control, and then we expressed shock without feeling a grain of surprise, and then we tried to figure out how we were supposed to reconcile an alien reality we unconsciously understood all along."
Now the U.S. establishment is going to make up for it on the back of Barry Bonds. Anything's possible, considering all this has already done something seemingly impossible -- make Barry Bonds seem like one of the good guys by comparison. Last word to Dave Zirin:
"The idea that they (the U.S. Department of Justice) have no time for Megan Williams, but invest years in the prosecution of Barry Bonds should make any good person of conscience utterly enraged."
It was never about Barry, and of course it always was (Deadspin)

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to


Dennis Prouse said...

You know, when you lie through your teeth to a Federal Grand Jury in the U.S., they tend to get a little angry. Barry is just reaping what he sowed here. Had he come clean about his drug use, he wouldn't be in this position. Yes, I know -- every drug cheat lies about it, a la Floyd Landis, and when caught try the old, "someone spiked my training supplements" routine.

Floyd Landis is a pretty fair comparison here. Floyd is white, and I don't recall him getting much of a free ride when he got caught cheating. This in spite of the fact that the world of cycling is notorious for drug cheats and blood doping. Just like Bonds, he wasn't the only one, and just like Bonds, he tried to claim he was being persecuted, but just like Bonds, he cheated, lied, and got caught.

Neate, you did the same thing on the Vick case, engaging in a round of moral relatavism, and taking your shots at culture and society south of the border you don't like. You are free not to like it, of course, but none of that changes the fact that Barry is both a drug cheat and a liar. Should the justice system be spending its time on a somewhat more important case? Sure, but just as with the Vick case, prosecutors never miss an opportunity to get a high profile pelt on their wall.

Just ask Martha Stewart - she engaged in insider trading for what amounted to a relatively small amount of money, for her anyway. Still, she broke the rules, and then lied about it. Was she made an example of, perhaps unfairly? I think so, and so too does my wife -- she thinks Martha was picked on because she was a high profile woman. Had Martha simply come clean to regulators when they started investigating her trade, she probably would have walked away with a fine. She lied about it, though, and they knew she was lying, just like a certain baseball slugger who experienced a three hat size growth in his late 30s.

Greg said...

Dennis, all your points are well-taken. But I think the points being made here by Neate and Zirin are not so much about the fact that Bonds did lie to a federal grand jury or he has allegedly taken steroids (even in America, you'd hope that the whole innocent until proven guilty mantra had weight still). The bigger issue is, as always, how race factors into the broader issues of American justice (and pretty much everything else in America).

Your two examples - Landis and Martha Stewart - are very interesting ones, given that Landis, while he is likely a drug cheat, has not been declared guilty in the court of public opinion like Bonds. The media coverage of the Landis case has been barely on the radar, much less been dragged out over years like the Bonds case has. And Stewart's case is also notable for the fact that, while Martha made some big-time enemies in her day in the sun, that had a lot more to do with her being a powerful, successful woman that acted, allegedly, like a man would in business. I'm not saying either Landis nor Stewart committed crimes, but how these cases were tried in the MSM and the court of public opinion means as much, if not more so, than the actual administration of justice.

What does all this mean? It means, in America, the uncomfortable realities of class, sexism and racism are still deeply entrenched in the public consciousness and the way these cases have been handled has everything to do with this fact.

Chris Rock made a very trenchant comment one time in his comedy act: "Only the white man in America can profit from pain." I'm not saying that Bonds or Michael Vick (or even Marion Jones!) don't deserve justice. But that comment speaks to a very real concern about race in America and the nature of justice - if a man like Bonds is guilty, his future in the baseball Hall of Fame, his endorsement deals, they're all gone forever. If a white man (or even a well-connected, brand-friendly face like Martha Stewart) had done something similar, they would have been tried, convicted and been a footnote in history.

After all, look at Mark McGwire.

sager said...

Dennis, I respect the point but this is different. First off, in Landis' sport, what he did is clearly against the rules; plus, it's cycling. Once Lance moved on, so do most of North America. It wasn't against major league baseball's in Bonds' case, and now we have to pretend like it is. They can't revise history.

It has nothing to do with a "culture (I) don't like." Hell, Americans are some of the best people around, but that is separate from this, the worst of example of a prosecutor caring more about headlines than convictions. That is the same flawed thinking that led to Mike Nifong being disbarred for how he tried to prosecute the Duke lacrosse kids. Those kids weren't angels, but someone tried to railroad him much the same way Bonds is getting railroaded.

It's not about a society or culture; it's about a cadre of political operatives who don't seem to believe in Habeas Corpus, the right to privacy, the Geneva Conventions or anything. How do they have the right to stand in judgement of Barry Bonds?

It's whacked to treat Bonds as a capital crime — did it even occur to anyone to investigate Mark McGwire? — while neglecting real crimes. Bottom line, bar none.

Pete Toms said...

D, you're wrong.

EVERYBODY, fans, media, management knew that McGwire was dirty. Nobody cared because everybody loved McGwire. Bonds is dirty as well but he is getting screwed because fans, media & management can't stand him. ( And I agree that he is an asshole - by all accounts ). The whole friggin game has been dirty for decades, the evidence is overwhelming.

It's almost 20 years since Ben Johnson. We - Canadians - should undertand better than anyone that PEDs have been ubiquitous in all high performance sports both professional & amateur, in North America and Europe, above and below the equator for at least 3 decades. Again, the evidence is overwhelming.

The better questions are why do we pretend to care about it in some sports - MLB - and not others - NFL? Why do we care that one baseball player - Bonds - does it and not when another - Clemens - does? ( Clemens name is widely associated with Grimsley ).

Do we really, honestly want PEDs removed from high performance sports? Do we really want our athletes in the training rooms more frequently? More fundamentally do we want to turn back the clock, weaker, smaller, slower? I don' think so.

sager said...

I don't know if there's a wrong opinion on this, to be honest... but yeah, unless we want to roll back to a 50-game hockey season, a 12-game NFL season, and about a 130-game baseball season, we might have to be honest about PEDs.

Carl said...


Not asking rhetorically, although it may sound like it, but would you want your kids getting involved in sports where the "PED" of choice was human growth hormone?

sager said...

I'll let the parents answer, but one answer might be is that my future children will probably not be involved in a high level of sport, so it's not for us average-joes to answer.

The athletic ruling class might very answer differently.

Pete Toms said...

Carl, no I wouldn't.

I will also tell my kids that pro athletes are not role models, they are entertainers.

Anonymous said...

Is steroid use illegal in the US?
I thought using steroids, while banned by sports leagues and associations, were not illegal per se by the general public.
Also what about pleading the 5th before grand juries for self incriminating questions?
Sorry if my questions seem stupid, but I am not very familiar with the American justice system.