Our Statist Pastime

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After many months of background maneuvering, the federal government has finally indicted baseball player Barry Bonds. Not for steroid use or for injecting himself with human growth hormone, but for lying to the government about whether he had done such things.

Let me be frank: I despise Barry Bonds, or at least the public persona Bonds elects to use in games and media appearances. I hate his showboating. I hate his body armor. I hate his race-baiting.

Most of all, I hate that his name now lies above Hank Aaron’s on the all-time home run list. Aaron, who faced much greater racial hatred on his way to breaking Ruth’s record, has always handled himself with dignity and aplomb.

But as much as I want to see Bonds disgraced, 1 don’t want to see him toppled by a perjury charge. I don’t want to see him sent to prison, period.

If, as alleged, Bonds knowingly injected himself with “performance-enhancing drugs” and if he did so at a time when such substances were prohibited under the rules of Major League Baseball, and if there is verifiable evidence to show that the injections did in fact take place (or if he admits to it, as track star Marion Jones did, even though she never failed a drug test), then he should be banned from the sport and stripped of any statistical records achieved while he was doping.

And there it should end. He shouldn’t be jailed for injecting steroids or HGH: any adult should be allowed to do so if he chooses. And he shouldn’t be jailed for lying to federal prosecutors: they had no business meddling in base- ball’s affairs in the first place – and, upon being asked to meddle by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, they should have declined. But, having thoroughly messed with Mom and apple pie, Congress took the opportunity to complete the trio, thus ending the era when American professional sports leagues could reasonably expect to deal with their own problems: labor problems (yes, I know: set the antitrust exemption aside), substance abuse, disciplinary proceedings, so on. I suspect this will see us move toward a more European model, toward the conventions of commissions to study every conceivable aspect of sport, and produce fat reports recommending that further study be undertaken – at, of course, the public expense, since, after all, it is in the public interest – but taking no action unless it be diametrically opposed to prudent policy.

In the meantime, Bonds may well beat the rap. Perjury is difficult to prove to a jury’s satisfaction. I, for one, hope he does. As hard as it is to feel pity for the man, I find it even harder to believe that he could ever be as much a showboat as the average congressman.

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