Surprisingly enough for a man who vehemently fights against almost every stigma attached to the male gender, there are sports I watch religiously. Professional football is one. College basketball would make two. In all other forays into athletic viewership, however, I remain strictly a team supporter. I’ll view Met games if they’re on television, but I won’t go searching for the games, and if they aren’t in the playoffs, I don’t watch. (Well, that used to be true, anyway…now that I’m married to a Red Sox fan, I actually found myself watching the Championship and World Series this season…and kind of enjoying it.) Same with the Celtics. That being said, I do care about each of those sports, particularly baseball. It’s been a part of this country for a very long time. I peruse box scores and play fantasy baseball with the best of them. It has a rich history that parallels this country’s social climate. In that way, it deserves my respect.
But enough is enough already.
Let’s step away from baseball for a moment. Barry Bonds was indicted Thursday on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. He’s now facing up to five years in prison per count charged, of which there are ten. Thankfully, I haven’t heard much public outcry that the grand jury should throw the book at him, because, quite honestly, he doesn’t deserve it. But still…
The fact the institution of government has taken such a vested interest in this case is troubling to me. What, don’t they have anything better to do – like, say, trying to solve this little thing called a war that’s been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past five years? How about fixing our flagging economy or finding alternative means of energy? Or maybe, just maybe, they could’ve been searching for ways to improve health care, figuring out how to clean up our rapidly deteriorating inner cities, or coming up with fresh solutions to solve the immigration problems. No, these troubles are for another time. Right now there’s more important things afoot. Like indicting a baseball player for lying when he told them he hadn’t stuck himself with a needle when he actually did.
Here’s the thing about federal indictments; they don’t come about easily. The governing body won’t bring forth a prosecution unless it has all its ducks in a row. This helps explain why federal trials carry with them a ninety-five percent conviction rate. They won’t do it unless they know everything there is to know. This takes countless man hours involving numerous legal agencies. How much money have they spent pursuing this case over the last five years? Forget I asked. I don’t really want to know.
The point is this case, along with the fact they threw their hat into the ring with baseball in the first place, stinks of distraction. I turn on the news, and it’s all I see. Barry Bonds is indicted by the grand jury! Stop and think about it for a moment. Is it really that important? Is a game – which itself is really just a distraction when you boil it down – worthy of as much airtime as this is getting when there’s the fate of our troops, our health, and our planet, among other things, to worry about?
No, it’s not.
But that’s what government – especially this administration, although I won’t get into that now – does. They misdirect. Incite a riot on the west end so the east end, where the real action is, becomes free of scrutiny. Why do you think they brought down the original grand jury hearing in the first place? Think of the timing. December 2003. The middle of campaigning for the ’04 elections. We’ve recently discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And this is what we’re given? A bunch of baseball players answering questions about steroids? (Isn’t it ironic, as well, that the day after that original hearing, the pharmaceutical companies began their push to fund patient advocacy groups, helping to aid our growing dependence on the drugs they produce? You think they didn’t have their stake in these happenings, as well, seeing as it really comes down to who’s giving out the drugs and who’s buying them for what?) Not to mention the fact we were five short months past the fall of the country we’re now occupying, and yet there’s still growing bloodshed. Seems a bit silly four years later, doesn’t it? But as I said, that’s what they do. It’s like saying, “Look, kids, here’s a shiny new quarter for you,” while taking the Christmas card your grandmother sent you and stuffing the fifty dollars in their own pocket. Pessimistic, I know. But it doesn’t make it any less true.
Okay, that’s enough on the hearing itself. Now, here’s the next part of the equation that’s creating such an outrage:The effect on the game of baseball, itself.
What should be done to Bonds? Should his records be thrown out? Marked with an asterisk? Should he be banned from the sport and its Hall of Fame? The public outcry for each of these outcomes is laughable. Pete Rose was suspended indefinitely for betting on baseball, and even that decision was questionable, at best. The thing with Bonds is, even though he used an illegal substance, he did nothing that was against the rules of the game at the time! I think that’s a point that most people are forgetting.
Baseball didn’t have a drug policy until three years ago. And don’t try to convince me, if you even believe it yourself, that they didn’t know what was going on. Come on. These are athletes here. They’re always searching for an edge in any way possible, always pushing the boundaries of the rules in search of that extra inch that makes a huge difference in terms of both winning and dollars. Is this really something to be vilified for? This country prides itself on such things, for Christ’s sake! Don’t forget the fact we wouldn’t be a country in the first place if we didn’t break the rules of engagement with the British in the 1700’s. Was what Bonds did good or honest? Definitely not. But it’s certainly not the mortal sin it’s being made out to be.
Here are my two favorite arguments against him.
#1 - “What about the children?” the masses cry. “What are we going to tell the kids?” That’s such a tired argument. Your offspring shouldn’t be looking to athletes as their heroes. These people are human just like you and me, and let’s face it, they have absolutely no stake or interest in what happens within our homes. But we do. We, as parents, have to take the initiative and teach our children what we think to be the correct way of doing things. That’s the responsibility we took on. The buck starts and ends with us. All we can do is teach them well, watch over them, protect them, and hope the mistakes they’ll inevitably make in their lives down the road are minor. That means, if they get to be adults and decide to do things like take steroids or rob a bank, that’s their decision as mature people, not ours. Let’s stop making scapegoats for our own laziness and ineptitude.
#2 – “He’s called into question the integrity of the game.” That’s another laugher. Sport ceased to have integrity any longer the moment people started getting paid to play them. At that point it became a business, and an entertainment business at that. How much integrity did baseball have when it banned African Americans from the sport for seventy some-odd years? Did they show honor when they locked players into contracts, holding them at paltry salaries while thwarting their American right to exist in a free market? And how honest were they when, after the Curt Flood trial and free agency began, the owners colluded to not allow player movement until the courts found them guilty and forced them to pony up? No, baseball’s not even close to perfect. Its history is full of racism, deceit, and greed. Barry Bonds isn’t going to “bring down the game.” In fact, in almost every way, he was created by it. They made their own proverbial bed. Now they have to lay in it.
The point of all this is simple. Did Barry do wrong? Yes. Should Barry be punished? Of course, within reason. We can’t allow people to lie to the courts and get away without castigation. But does Barry deserve to be burned at the stake? Absolutely not. He’s undeniably human – albeit a bit more arrogant and stand-offish than most. He’s not the first person to cheat, nor will he be the last. Life’s going to move on. There’s more important things we have to worry about right now. Much more.
It’s time we learned a little perspective.