Saturday, November 17, 2007

Barry Bonds Perjury Indictment Is Pure USDoJ Media Ploy

Since Grits has discussed steroid testing quite a bit recently and did a reader poll on the topic, I wanted to comment briefly on the Barry Bonds' perjury indictment related to alleged (but extremely likely) steroid use. To be clear, from everything I've seen, Bonds is a big jerk. I don't like him much, and I wish Hank Aaron still held the home run record. But the much-hyped federal indictments seem unmerited, and if I were a betting man, I'd wager Bonds and his high-priced legal talent will win out at the end of the day.

Leaving aside the personalities and issues in the specific case, though, Bonds' indictments raise a number of other issues for me that deserve wider discussion.

First, why are my tax dollars even investigating steroids in professional baseball? It seems to me Congress and the DoJ got involved only because of the media hype. Isn't this taking the Interstate Commerce Clause a little far?

Second, I remain unconvinced that there's a serious health threat to steroid use that isn't taken on knowingly and with full consent from those taking them. Indeed, some of the admitted steroid users, like Marion Jones and some of the European cyclists, are among the best-conditioned athletes on the planet. It's one thing for Major League Baseball to ban steroids to protect the purity of competition (though if that's the case, they've failed, since hundreds of players besides Bonds have allegedly also used steroids in the current generation of athletes). But it's quite another for the long arm of the federal government to intervene when there's little health or safety threat. I mean, don't they have a war to run, or something?

Third, can we please stop pursuing pointless politicized prosecutions against high profile figures for "perjury" when no one was charged with any underlying crime? Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, how many times have we seen this, now? Stop, please.

Fourth, media hype surrounding Bonds shows race still matters. The underlying issues are not racial, but the public's reaction has contained extra vitriol that you don't see when we're talking about Mark McGwire.

Fifth, as Kuff said, the statistics are simply a record of history. Talk of wiping Bonds' stats off the books makes no more sense than pretending games played by "Shoeless" Joe Jackson never happened. The advantage gained by Bonds using steroids wasn't nearly as great, IMO, as the advantage Babe Ruth enjoyed not having to face pitchers from the Negro League. But we see no asterisk on Ruth's stats, or other MLB greats from before league integration.

Finally, if we're going to prioritize law enforcement resources based on where they get the most bang for the buck, as I've argued before, the feds should be focusing on steroid abuse in law enforcement, not in professional or amateur sports. When police officers engage in black market activities it exposes them to blackmail and corruption opportunities that create a real public safety dilemma. There is simply no such public interest benefit from the government investigating athletes.

The New York Times quoted a law prof saying a "message has to be sent to the public” when a high profile person appears to get away with defying federal prosecutors and the grand jury. But in my experience, nearly every time someone tells you a lawsuit or a proposed law is intended to "send a message," the result is bad public policy because public relations goals inevitably override the pursuit of justice.

That's what's happened here, and it's why I hope federal prosecutors pursuing this wind up with mud in their eye.

Send Bonds to the Hall of Fame, forget all the talk of an asterisk, and let's start to have a more serious discussion about whether steroids do any demonstrable harm that justifies federal intervention, and whether there might be more serious problems out there to worry about.

MORE: Big Tom over at Houston's Clear Thinkers rounds up more Bonds-related editorializing in the blogosphere.

15 comments:

Bluemax said...

Bonds lied to the FBI, but Bush lied to the Public, and it cost the lives of 4,000 young men! Please tell me which crime is worse, and why are people not crying for something to be done.

Anonymous said...

You new the race card was coming.

Joe.

Anonymous said...

Ploy or not, it's about time. Put his uppity ass with Vick.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Vick actually committed a real crime. Bonds is being indicted, as you said, because he's "uppity." There are hundreds more steroid using pro athletes they're not pursuing. Joe may think it's playing the race card, but I rarely hear people call for imprisoning "uppity" white folks.

JT Barrie said...

Unlike all of our illegal drugs like Cocaine, Marijuana and Meth, we have actually compiled considerable data about the risks of using anabolic steroids and the harms associated with over reliance. And yet, somehow Bonds can't go to jail for using while others can lose jobs and opportunities and do jail time for using these other untested drugs?

Picking on Bonds may be racist especially since other jerks like Pete Rose weren't checked for steroids. And yes, Pete Rose still isn't in the Hall of Fame so maybe it isn't that racist.

The problem with steroids is that, while Bonds has only about 2% more talent and worked only about 2% harder than most starting outfielders he gets ten times the income. The temptation to get that other 2% is HUGE for athletes and there are limits to how much talent and hard work can get you.

Shawn Williams said...

I'd like to comment on point number four where you talk about the media circus and race.

Barry Bonds is not a likable guy, and were the word 'jerk' in my working vocabulary I many ascribe it to him. But 'jerks' in sports and namely baseball is nothing new. For some reason 'jerks' like Barry Bonds, Albert Belle, and even Eddie Murray to some extent, are treated more harshly by the mainstream media than are there white jerk counterparts.

Why?

Because they are seen as "uppity" as your anonymous commenter posted earlier. If a black player has the audacity to deny the media full access and God forbid question their intentions, then he is labeled and subsequently torn down by them.

Has there ever been a bigger jerk than Bill Parcells? I'll answer that NO! But his jerkness is considered charming by most Americans. Mark McGwire never did anybody any favors until he started coming under suspicion for having Andro in his locker.

What if Bonds had answered questions before Congress the way McGwire did. Better than that, Raffy Palmerio lied to Congress, and the media in this area (especially Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket) acted like he was never suspended for steroids.

Baseball specifically is covered with examples of the media covering for jerks, why because they liked them and more so because they could relate to them. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, even Ty Cobb will fit into that mold.

On a pure legal tip, it's usually the cover up that gets them right? Tax evasion, mail fraud, perjury. If Bonds is guilty, he's guilty, but it amuses me that America would let believe that the reason Bonds is so reviled is because he's a 'jerk'.

Hank Aaron was not seen as this mythical heroic figure when he reached 715. I'm sure he was even called 'uppity' in some of the hate mail he received as he chased Ruth.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, Shawn, your point about Bill Parcells is exactly what I was getting at - Bobby Knight at Texas Tech is another good example. Even when disliked, they get cut a certain "boys will be boys" slack by the media and the public that Bonds doesn't seem to benefit from. The gloves seem to come off just a little quicker.

And to JT, I get that about competition pushing these guys to use steroids, but isn't that an issue for major league baseball, not the US Senate and the US Attorney's office?

And just for the record: I didn't say everyone who reacted negatively to these revelations are "racist," by a long shot, nor do I think the prosecutors are "racist" for pursuing it. I didn't use that word, I said "race still matters." This would be a big deal if any home run king were indicted for charges related to performance enhancing drugs. Actually, I think the systemic flaws that caused prosecutors to pursue it are the same ones that made them go after Clinton, Stewart and Libby on similar charges and don't have anything to do with race. I was speaking more of the media and public reaction, as mentioned above. best,

Anonymous said...

I don't think Libby belongs in the same category as Bonds.

He was part of a criminal conspiracy to out an undercover CIA agent who was working, with other spies whose cover was blown, to track down nukes in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East.

Outing a CIA agent is an actual, and serious, crime. The reason nobody was indicted under the relevant statute is b/c witnesses like Libby lied under oath, repeatedly, to FBI agents and to a grand jury.

This isn't the same thing as using steroids to gain a competitive advantage in baseball.

For that matter, it's also not the same as lying about an extra-marital blowjob, which hardly endangered national security as much as blowing the cover of a network of undercover agents in the Islamic world.

These kinds of false equivalences are a major reason why we have the broken government we do.

The public reaction to Bonds' indictment has been interesting. We await similar indictments of McGwire, Giambi, or the probably dozens of white players who used. Bonds is black and he is a dick, a volatile combination. Did anyone offer to put an asterisk on the baseball McGwire hit to break the HR record for the Hall of Fame?

Bonds' case is an example of using perjury for a highly selective prosecution. He isn't OJ. Nobody died from his actions. Arguably McGwire did more harm as a "role model" who inspired teenage boys like that kid in Texas who died from using steroids.

Get real, people.

BB

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Bill, the only equivalency I was making was a) failing to prosecute for an underlying crime while b) selectively prosecuting a high-profile figure for perjury "to send a message." In all these cases, I'd prefer they either prove the underlying crime or don't go off on these publicity-seeking tangents.

I also agree Britney Spears' perjury indictment cannot be far behind. What a grand message that'll send. About what, I don't know, but they'll think of something.

Anonymous said...

Gotta get creative.

They got Capone on tax evasion, after all.

Anonymous said...

I really think the DOJ is just making an example of Bonds with the pending Mitchell Report. I am sure there are other things they are going to want to get to the bottom of based on that report and they want to make it clear that you just don't lie to federal investigators. And I am sure they also don't take his defiance and outright disregard for their intelligence lightly.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I agree with you, but in Libby's case, there was actually an underlying crime committed.

And the reason given by the prosecutor in the indictment wasn't to "send a message" but to punish someone whose perjured testimony had, as he put it in the indictment, "thrown sand in the umpire's face" and obstructed the pursuit of the guilty parties, who most observers think was most likely VP Cheney.

In other words, it was a textbook case for perjury and obstruction of justice, b/c that's exactly what happened, Libby lied blatantly and repeatedly and by doing so obstructed justice.

The reality is that the frivolous and selective use of perjury charges in high profile cases, as you noted, has cheapened the seriousness of these actions when they actually mean something, as in Libby's case. So we dismiss them all as bogus.

BB

Anonymous said...

I still think the DOJ is just prepping those named in the Mitchell report to be prepared to talk openly to investigators to be able to disrupt the steroid problem.

If it was truly a publicity stunt they could have put forth the indictment during the world series, like A-Rod.

Shawn Williams said...

Hey Scott,

Where's the media firestorm calling Roger Clemens an "uppity" cheater? Don't worry, you won't see it.

- Mark C. said...

Bonds belongs in the Hall Of Fame, period. With or without steroids, Bonds is the best player of the modern era.

Baseball Etc