The Ethics of Nailing Barry Bonds

Is Barry Bonds getting the Al Capone treatment? Should we care?

Baseball’s all-time home run king Barry Bonds is finally on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his 2003 testimony before a grand jury that he never knowingly used steroids. It looks like he may get convicted too, even though the one man who could harm him most, his trainer and childhood pal Greg Anderson, once again has refused to testify and is in jail for contempt of court. (Many—including me— believe that Anderson has a promise of a pay-off from Bonds.)

Essentially everyone who isn’t actively trying to protect Bonds, completely ignorant of the facts of his career, or mentally handicapped knows he was lying and knew it at the time of the grand jury hearings. Barry has been both lucky and relentlessly dishonest, however, seemingly happy to spend the millions he made while cheating and permanently damaging his sport, and pleased with himself for retiring in possession of baseball’s most prestigious home run records, the most homers in a single season, and the most homers in a career.  That Bonds achieved these, and several of his Most Valuable Player awards, while enhanced with the surreptitiously induced body chemistry of a Bulgarian weight-lifter in the 1972 Olympics doesn’t seem to faze him at all. Meanwhile, critics are dredging up the old rationalizations to defend Bonds, none of which apply to his current fix.

If he lied to a grand jury, that is a serious crime, as is the obstruction of justice it created. But, say the critics, isn’t this a waste of law enforcement resources? Isn’t the relentless pursuit of Bonds in the perjury matter really payback for his getting away with records-murder and National Pastime sliming, two crimes for which there are no appropriate laws? Isn’t this prosecution really an attempt by Federal authorities to use the power of the government to destroy for all time the most galling of the arguments of Bond’s defenders, that he is “innocent until proven guilty”? (The refutation of this nonsense in a nutshell: “Innocent until proven guilty” means that the justice system does not punish someone before guilt has been proven at trial no matter how overwhelming the evidence; it does NOT mean that when a baseball player suddenly starts getting much better at an age when every other player who ever lived got worse, suddenly mutates into baseball version of The Incredible Hulk, showing all the classic signs of steroid use, while training with a convicted steroid user and peddler and receiving mail order deliveries of mysterious contents from a company known to supply steroids to athletes, reasonable people are being unfair or unreasonable to conclude that such a player is a steroid user, a.k.a a despicable cheater.)

Sally Jenkins, the Washington Post sports columnist, flogged these arguments in a recent column; she’s far from the only one. Her arguments, however, make no sense. She says that the prosecution is far too expensive…well, why is that? It’s expensive because Bond’s steroid use made him rich enough to hire a crack legal team to fight the investigation every inch of the way, for eight long years. What was stopping Bonds from telling the truth? What stopped him from telling the grand jury the truth in 2003? (We know what, of course—accountability. Consequences. Exposure.) Lying to a grand jury and impeding a criminal investigation is a serious crime, and when a high profile celebrity like Bonds does it and gets away with it, this undermines the justice system. Jenkins is repeating the old anti-Ken Starr Clinton defender talking point: “Why is he spending all this time and money trying to wring the truth out of Bill Clinton?” Because the alternative is for law enforcement to only go to the mat to convict the poor, the weak, and the insignificant, that is why. Clinton, like Bonds, could have saved all that money and time by just telling the truth. The liars are at fault; don’t blame the officials who are dedicated to making sure lying doesn’t pay.

I won’t argue that Jenkins isn’t correct that much of the Feds’ fervor is to make sure Bonds’ doesn’t get away scot-free for his cheating ways. Normally, I don’t approve of prosecutors using one offense to punish another, unless the public safety is involved. It is usually unethical, but not always. Al Capone had to be convicted and put away:he had bribed judges and juries to get away with murder, and was a plague on the city of Chicago—I think nailing him for tax evasion was the right thing to do. Barry Bonds, however, scum that he is, has never killed anyone; he just maimed Major League Baseball, and he had lots of help at that. I think it would be wrong to use another crime to punish him for this; still, if the question is whether a legitimate prosecution for a serious crime on its own can ethically gather a little extra oomph because the conviction will be good for the culture for other reasons, my answer, at least in Barry Bonds’ case, is yes.

My answer is yes because as of this moment, Barry Bonds stands as a monument to the value of cheating and lying. His smug success at reaping all the benefits of illicit PED use—wealth, fame, and immortal records—with no significant negative consequences is a big, cultural green light to cheaters everywhere, at a time when cheating is a growing problem in American society. It’s important to change that light to red, and sending Barry Bonds to prison for lying under oath will accomplish that.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Ethics of Nailing Barry Bonds

  1. His smug success at reaping all the benefits of illicit PED use—wealth, fame, and immortal records—with no significant negative consequences is a big, cultural green light to cheaters everywhere, at a time when cheating is a growing problem in American society. It’s important to change that light to red, and sending Barry Bonds to prison for lying under oath will accomplish that.

    Alas, people literally and figuratively run red lights all the time.

  2. Eric

    Bulgaria boycotted the 1984 Olympics.

  3. Elizabeth

    It isn’t just baseball. Cheating and lying are a “trickle down” problem. What percentage of kids admit to cheating in school? Will they suddenly reach adulthood and become ethical? Stop cheating and lying for their own benefit? I doubt it. Look at the role models they have now.

    Sports stars, politicians, Hollywood and TV celebrities ARE their role models, whether we like it or not. (It certainly isn’t priests or any other clergy anymore, now is it?) When these role models lie, cheat, obstruct justice, they harm us all, not just the profession they happen to practice. Making a lot of money in sports and as actors — regardless of one’s ethics — is a big motivator. Now, being a politician falls into the same category.

    The country is going to hell, and if prosecutors want to make an example of Barry Bonds, more power to them. The point is: THERE SHOULD BE CONSEQUENCES for illegal and unethical behavior. So far, I see none.

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