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Monday, November 19, 2007
The indictment of Bonds is just plain wrong

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

You will automatically assume the reason I'm defending Barry Bonds is because he's black and I'm black.

You will be wrong.

Barry Bonds
Is Barry Bonds being mistreated? The answer is yes.
This is not about the commonality of race. And for the record, I have been as critical as anyone of Bonds. I didn't want to see him break Hank Aaron's record, because he's not as dignified as Aaron was and Bonds didn't respect his natural ability the same way Aaron respected his.

But that doesn't mean Bonds belongs in prison.

The only way to see the indictment of Bonds is as a gross, terrible injustice, a startling abuse of power and a waste of taxpayer money.

The "race card" is somewhere in my back pocket, but I'll play that later on. For now, let's focus on something even bigger than race -- the unbelievably deep hypocrisy that has fueled the federal government's pursuit of Bonds for four years.

The decision to indict Bonds on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, a charge I still don't understand, considering the government didn't need Bonds to topple BALCO -- isn't right, fair or just.

The feds have made Bonds into Al Capone, when he's more like Pookie than Nino Brown. They're blaming the crackhead instead of the drug dealer, the prostitute instead of the pimp, the wayward child instead of the enabling parent.

Cast aside whether Bonds signed enough autographs, the irrelevant tales about what a jerk he's been to the media, his mistress, the rocky divorce and our general addiction to seeing towering stars fall, then digest this: Barry Bonds -- who didn't create BALCO, who didn't distribute the performance-enhancing drugs that came out of BALCO, who was nothing more than a client of BALCO -- is facing stiffer punishment and castigation than Victor Conte, the man who masterminded the entire operation.

Bonds -- who wasn't the first baseball player to take performance-enhancing drugs unknowingly or otherwise, who played in a league that, for a time, subtly encouraged PED use, who played against players taking the same drugs as him, who isn't even the first player to lie to the government about taking performance-enhancing drugs (see: Palmeiro, Rafael) -- is facing prison time and will be anointed the primary culprit of an era he didn't create.

And the universe was definitely trying to send us a message, because as the Bonds indictment continued to ripple, MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced that Major League Baseball's revenue climbed to $6 billion this year, the highest amount in history. How much of that came from Bonds' bat? How much of that came because of an orchestrated ignorance of steroids?

How rich of the White House to briefly ignore issues like the war in Iraq, escalating violence in this country, and poor health care to express its disappointment in Bonds. President Bush's interest in this matter is intriguing, considering when he owned part of the Texas Rangers, he employed some of the biggest juicers in the game -- Palmeiro, Jose Canseco, and a handful of others who were suspect.

The government has spent some $6 million to catch a baseball player who mostly committed a crime against himself and his legacy. They have sought Bonds for four years, a pursuit that would have been reasonable if he were a violent criminal. For what? Because they didn't like that Bonds didn't cower in fear while testifying during the BALCO trial? Because he's spoiled, rich and arrogant, and they wanted to knock him down a peg or two?

Should Bonds have fessed up to whatever he did? Certainly. But $6 million seems like a hefty price to pay to crush a ballplayer's ego and inflate a government branch's.

I certainly don't support lying to the government -- if that's what Bonds did. But I'm not about to pretend that Bonds' alleged lie is the equivalent of handing over sensitive government documents to Osama bin Laden.

SMACK. Time to play the race card. Bonds' blackness is not the sole reason Bonds is in this mess. But it is a factor in why the fairness seems so skewed, why the vitriol seems so severe, why the pursuit was so unrelenting.

Bonds' most egregious error is that he is not content to play the role of the grateful black man. Black athletes, particularly males, who express the kind of arrogance Bonds does are often villified more than white athletes who do the same. Brett Favre pleaded to be surrounded by talent for years, yet when Randy Moss expressed similar frustration in Oakland he was called selfish and whiny and told to shut up. Gary Sheffield, while not the most eloquent speaker, alerted us to the obvious -- that MLB has a certain amount of economic control over Latino players because it plucks them from their home countries so they won't have to pay hefty signing bonuses in the draft. Sheffield was roasted for this, but it was perfectly fine for Larry Bird to say the NBA needs more white superstars.

Black athletes who refuse to kowtow get it worse, and from that perspective the race card is appropriately applicable.

For weeks, we've gotten reports of various baseball players purchasing human growth hormone, for obviously circumspect reasons and from obviously suspect people. Why isn't the government knocking at the door of Rick Ankiel, forcing him to testify against his supplier? Why didn't the government pursue the past that Mark McGwire wasn't eager to talk about? Why does MLB seem to have only a passive interest in Paul Byrd?

What-about-them arguments are normally despicable, but to ignore that Bonds was part of an ensemble cast is foolish and lacks perspective.

Of course, no matter how this situation concludes -- despite the hypocrisy and racial undertones in this case -- the overall moral lesson here is integrity should be used in conjunction with talent.

If it's true Bonds could have avoided this -- had he not been jealous of Sammy Sosa and McGwire, players whose talent was never in the same stratosphere as Bonds' -- then that's the real crime. Had Bonds simply stayed the course and remained the player he was prior to the steroid era, he would have received the credit that made him seek out performance-enhancing drugs in the first place.

He'll have to live with that forever. And that, to me, is justice.

Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.