Thursday, May 10, 2007

Barry Bonds: Diminished Because of Dope

A big controversy boils in Major League Baseball over Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home run record. It is no secret that Barry Bonds and performance enhancement substances are intimately acquainted. And yet, the sports world is divided about how to view Bond's achievements. On the one hand this from John Lopez of the Houston Chronicle:

And for all those who would argue Bonds' cause, pointing to the same old arguments that Bonds was a supreme hitter before steroids, that not much evidence has stuck on him or that resentment is unfair or race-related, get real.

Believe whatever you want regarding how much Bonds knew about the drugs he was ingesting from 2001 through 2003. The fact is, grand-jury testimony showed that he indeed took human growth hormone, depo-testosterone, undetectable steroids known as "the cream" and "the clear," insulin, and Clomid, a drug for female infertility that sometimes is used to enhance the effect of testosterone.

No matter Bonds' story, that's flat-out breaking the law. Bonds cheated and stole from the game.

On the other hand there are those who believe Bonds is singled out because he's black. They believe that there would be no controversy if he were white. A CBS-ESPN poll seems to bolster this opinion. Only 37% of blacks polled believe Bonds used 'roids while 76% of whites think he did. Seattle P-I writer Ted Miller sees this behind the numbers:

First off, few blacks really believe Bonds never took steroids, despite 36 percent saying so in the poll (call it an overwhelming, though unscientific, impression gathered from various conversations). Savvy poll respondents often don't say what they think. They break down the question and answer in a way intended to support their agenda.

If a magical being suddenly appeared and announced he would produce irrefutable proof of whether Bonds did or didn't take performance-enhancing drugs, how many of that 36 percent would rush their opinion to a Vegas bookie? Please.

This isn't to say the 36 percent is stupid or full of it. Their intention isn't to answer the question. It's to protest the process by which Bonds became a pariah. By announcing that, in effect, they won't believe Bonds took steroids until they see a needle sticking out of his rear end with their own two eyes, they are sending a message -- one of racial solidarity, one that asserts their belief in the continuing prevalence of institutionalized racism and one of stubborn resistance to a system that has railroaded so many in the past.

I would buy the racial thing, except a white guy (McGwire) and a Puerto Rican guy (Sosa) will live with asterisks next to their names in the annals of baseball history, too. The mark might not be on paper, but it will be in everyone's minds.

If there is any hypocrisy, it isn't racial. It's financial. All of these guys enjoyed and continue to enjoy the kudos during the hunt for the records. They make a game exciting. They bring fans to the park. The fans love it and don't want to hear about the steroids. They're as high on excitement as the players are on dope. Everyone loves an enhanced athlete. But then they wake up the next day feeling kinda sick. It felt real but it was a fling.

Breaking the record of a respected great like Hank Aaron reinforces the hangover. Okay, it's fun watching balls get bashed out of the park when nothing big is at stake, but it's not so much fun to see a beloved athlete's record broke by a cheater. It's not fair--even if everyone from Bud Selig to the kid in the cheap seats cheered the homeruns.

So, Bond's won't get to enjoy the record the same way a natural athlete would be able to, no matter his race. Bond is a victim of his own enhanced success. It was all well and good to make records year in and year out, but he's broaching on something sacred. And while he's a big-time hitter, his pseudo-strength makes Hank Aaron look that much more a true giant. And no, it's not just the homeruns. It's also because Aaron didn't cheat. It's because he played at a time of disgusting, rampant racism yet persevered with grace. It's because he played with dignity and amazing athleticism. Aaron as a man, not just a player, puts Bond's achievements in stark contrast. Barry Bonds isn't even in a small way the man that Hank Aaron is, so he's just going to have to live with the doubt and derision.

Is Barry Bonds as great as Hank Aaron? Maybe. But that's just it: because he cheated we'll never know for sure. And that's why dope is bad for sports.

1 comment:

Chalmers said...

I think you hit this one right on the nose.

I have now changed my perspective on the HR record. I used to hope for a career ending injury to keep Bonds from breaking it, but now, now I hope that he shatters the record this year and becomes a permanent reminder of the corruption and greed in the sport of baseball. Heck, enshrine him, Maguire and Pete Rose all in the same room in Cooperstown.