(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
Collateral damage is the “unintended or incidental” consequence of an action. Although unfortunate, collateral damage is usually considered to be a necessary evil required to achieve an objective. Almost 600 years ago, an Italian scholar named Machiavelli articulated a philosophy centered on this phenomenon. In a nutshell, “the end justifies the means”.
This morning, Barry Bonds walked into a federal courthouse in San Francisco to answer charges that he lied during testimony to a grand jury investigating the BALCO scandal that uncovered systemic use of performance enhancing drugs throughout the world of sports. In the seven-plus years since Bonds first testified that he did not knowingly take steroids, the U.S. government has pushed the limits of Machiavelli’s axiom in an attempt to prove their case. Meanwhile, the mainstream media, acting as a self appointed custodian of the game’s morality, has engaged in similar tactics, convicting countless players of a variety of transgressions without anything more than the slightest circumstantial evidence.
The merits of the government’s case against Bonds are open to debate, but the amount of money spent and tactics used to compile evidence make it hard to believe the ultimate goal is justice. And, if it is, what price is being paid to attain it?
There’s no arguing against the importance of upholding the sanctity of the criminal justice system by prosecuting cases of perjury, but that doesn’t mean the end justifies the means. The hypocrisy employed by the government is best illustrated by the many leaks that have emanated from the federal prosecutor’s office. Just as witnesses have an obligation to tell the truth, the government has an obligation to protect the privacy of testimony. To date, there have been no charges filed to uphold that sanctity of that confidentiality.
As shameful as the government’s conduct has been, the sports media’s actions have been even worse. For them, Bonds hasn’t been a means. He has been the end, and the damage done to countless others has been the collateral damage.
From little-league teams all the way up to college and professional ranks, the breakfast of champions these days is likely to be some drug: upper, downer, painkiller, muscle-builder. The genie of the pill bottle threatens both athletes and athletics.” – Jack Scott, director of the Institute of for the Study of Sport and Society, The New York Times, October 17, 1971
Contrary to what many would like to believe, steroids are not a modern creation. The documented usage of performance enhancing substances predates Barry Bonds’ prolific homerun spree by decades. Only after Bonds name surfaced amid allegations, however, did moral outrage ensue.
Most other sports have handled steroid issues without much fanfare. The NFL, for example, had a rampant problem in the 1970s that it eventually (allegedly) brought under control without the fire and brimstone that baseball has had to endure. Of course, if not for Bonds, it may have also been possible for baseball to escape without the level of scrutiny it eventually received.
When Thomas Boswell wrote about suspected steroid use by Jose Canseco before the 1988 World Series, it was largely dismissed. When a bottle of Andro was discovered in Mark McGwire’s locker, the reporter who broke the story was vilified. Even after Tom Verducci blew the cover off the pervasive use and tacit acceptance of performance enhancing drugs in baseball, there was very little groundswell for a moral crusade. However, once the rumors that began to swirl around Bonds were seemingly confirmed by the initial findings in the BALCO investigation, the pitchforks came out in full force. It wasn’t steroid use that was so abhorrent. It was Barry Bonds.
Bonds was never a popular player among the media. To say that the slugger distrusted the press would be an understatement. Throughout his career, he refused to pay deference to those holding tape recorders, so a natural level of mutual contempt arose between the two parties. As long as he was hitting homeruns and establishing his legacy as one of the greatest players in the game, Bonds could get away with treating the media with disdain. When the steroid allegations arose, however, the media finally had the ammunition needed to go on the offensive. The result was a relentless onslaught that sought to destroy Bonds’ reputation and anyone else’s who got in the way.
Getting Barry Bonds spawned a cottage industry of “gotcha journalism” disguised as investigative reporting. Meanwhile, major league baseball, under pressure from the U.S. Congress, created its own collateral damage with the misguided creation of Mitchell Report. Now, after essentially being blacklisted from the game and having various indictments hang over his head for three years, Bonds finally gets the chance to defend himself. Ironically, however, no one seems to carry anymore. And, why should they? Bonds’ reputation has already been destroyed. The mission has been accomplished. The end justifies the means.