The Barry Bonds dilemma

03 Aug 2007 Posted by

San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds had only 1 hit during the first game of the division series in Atlanta Wednesday afternoon.  10/2/02 Michael Holahan photo SPORTSThe tour is finished, and even though this year a breaking news (ok, doping!) story might emerge at any moment, we are going to turn to America for this post. Baseball fans or not, some of you may know that Barry Bonds (of BALCO infmay) will most certainly break baseball’s most hallowed record any day now. Henry Aaron holds the record for the most number of home runs in the game at 755, but currently Bonds is at 754, and with over a month remaining in the 2007 season he is almost assured of being the new home run king.

This is such a charged topic that we could write a book on it, and in fact, two sports writers already did. In 2006 Mark Fainaru-Wana and Lance Williams published “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports” (follow the link on the left to buy this book). It is a must read for those not only interested in baseball but other sports as well since many sports had “BALCO athletes” in them. So we will leave it to them to explain the intricate details of that story, and will focus rather on Bonds’ record for now.

Reaction to Bonds is mixed in this country. To be sure, many many fans boo him and taunt him at ball parks across the country. He is greeted by crowds chanting, “Steroids! Steroids!” and “Cheater! Cheater!” Yet in the San Francisco area, where Bonds’ team is from, people still line up at batting practice just to try to catch one of his practice home run balls. In addition, the commissioner of baseball has always tried to dodge Bonds, and until recently had been skipping Bonds’ games while he creeped ever closer to the record. Apparently he has decided to be present during the record, although you get the feeling that he really wishes it was not Bonds to break the record.

Recently at his book launch in Chicago, Floyd Landis (“Positively False,” also on the left up there) was asked about Barry Bonds and what he thought of him breaking the record. Landis’ response was that during the years when Bonds was taking steroids, these drugs were not banned in Major League Baseball, and there was no testing policy. Therefore, shouldn’t we get off of Bonds’ back? Did he really do something against the rules? After all, he was not violating the rules of baseball as they were at that time.

This is a shocking response but probably illustrates the ambition of athletes like Bonds and Landis. For those athletes who possess such a will and desire to win, the ends justify the means. Although taking performance-enhancing drugs is morally and ethically wrong, and likely a health risk, providing it is not literally against the rules, then it must be ok to do it.

So the debate will rage on for many years as it does now, and that is first whether or not Bonds’ record, together with is single-season home run record, should have asterisks next to them in the record book, and second, should he be allowed into the hall of fame? Regardless of this debate, though, the one conclusion at which we can safely arrive is the drug testing policy in baseball, even today, is a joke. Here is what happens to repeat steroid offenders:

  1. First positive: 10 day suspension OR up to a $10,000 fine
  2. Second positive: 30-day suspension OR up to a $25,000 fine
  3. Third positive: 60-day suspension OR up to a $50,000 fine
  4. Fourth positive: One year suspension OR up to a $100,000 fine

Any subsequent positive: “Any subsequent positive test result by a player shall result in the Commissioner imposing further discipline on the player. The level of discipline will be determined consistent with the concept of progressive discipline.”

We do not need to elaborate on this to explain why it is a joke when compared to the stringent and tough penalties that apply to all other international athletes, and the take home message here is that although now the spotlight is on cycling, it is not alone in its abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. At least cyclists face a much tougher penalty system, although currently this does not seem like much of a deterrent.

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Ross and Jonathan

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