Feature

Steroids: Pointing the finger at Barry Bonds

“It’s too late for an asterisk,” said Gwen Knapp in the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s never too late for the truth.” Barry Bonds this summer laid claim to the most prestigious record in all of sports, passing Hank Aaron’s career mark of 755 home runs. But with most fans convinced that Bonds’ feat was aided by steroids, a cloud hung over not only Bonds’ record but all of baseball. Soon, though, the rumors and suspicions will give way to actual evidence and testimony. Last week, a federal grand jury investigating a California steroid distribution center known as Balco indicted Bonds, 43, for perjury and obstruction of justice. Bonds, the indictment charges, lied when he testified that he did not realize his trainer was giving him steroids and designer human-growth hormones.

This case marks the beginning of the end of “Steroidgate,” said John Feinstein in The Washington Post. For too long, “baseball has been in denial” about the scourge of steroids, rewarding cheaters and encouraging, if tacitly, use of the dangerous substance among high school and college athletes who look to the pros as role models. “The cop-out always was ‘There’s no proof.’” Well, the Bonds case puts that proof on the table. Not that anyone should be shocked, said Gene Wojciechowski in ESPN.com. Bonds weighed 185 pounds in the early 1990s. By the time he slammed a record-breaking 73 home runs in the 2001 season—previously never having topped 49—he was grotesquely swollen with more than 40 additional pounds of muscle. “Essentially, Bonds perpetrated a fraud.”

If so, he had plenty of co-conspirators, said The Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial. For years, Major League Baseball enabled steroid use, paying millions to bulked-up players who could suddenly hit scores of homers. Refusing to implement drug testing, it happily raked in the receipts fueled by those home-run derbies—especially the 1998 Mark McGwire–Sammy Sosa showdown we now know was tainted by steroids. So why did authorities spend four years trying to nail Bonds? asked William Rhoden in The New York Times. Was it his prickly personality that motivated them—or something uglier? Black superstars, it seems, face a double standard in this country. Take Michael Vick, hardly the only American to engage in dogfighting, or Marion Jones, just one of many track stars to use steroids. Like Bonds, they’re now ruined, while “white megaheroes” like McGwire have escaped punishment. It could all just be coincidence, I suppose. But “I’m waiting for the dragnet to pull in a more diverse bounty.”

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