Bonds' Indictment Raises Issues of Race, Personality

You couldn't throw a baseball Friday without striking a theory about why federal prosecutors never let Barry Bonds out of their sights for four years, while the Giants slugger hit 104 home runs and broke the records of Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

The day after the nation's new home run king was indicted for allegedly lying about using performance-enhancing drugs to empower his swing, historians and legal experts say Bonds was targeted because he appeared to shrug off the accusations while pursuing the game's most cherished title.

"There is not a minute that goes by that some federal agent or federal prosecutor or law enforcement figure somewhere is not being lied to by someone," said Jean Rosenbluth, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who teaches law at the University of Southern California.

"What the government tends to do is not prosecute perjury unless it's a high-profile case," Rosenbluth said. "You can send the message out worldwide saying, 'Do not lie to us.' Barry Bonds is a perfect example."

But whether his petulant behavior and singular success were enough to explain the government's drawn-out investigation remained a source of disagreement.

Some scholars agreed with Bonds, insisting that given how widespread doping is in sports and the nation's uneasy relationship with black superstars, race cannot be ignored as a factor.

"This is the latest in a long litany of America's near-obsession with the troublesome black athlete. Whether it's Tyrell Owens, Michael Vick or now Barry Bonds, black athletes who don't toe the line are going to be held accountable," said Steven Millner, chairman of the African American Studies Department at San Jose State University.

Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, said that regardless of whether racial bias made Bonds subject to disparate treatment, it remains an important issue for professional sports and society because the perception is there.

"If you are a kid trying to decide what sport to play and look at Major League Baseball, and then see the person who is arguably the greatest player of his generation not being a favorite of the media even before the steroids story became as pronounced, you are going to be less likely to choose baseball," Lapchick said.

An AP-Ipsos poll conducted this summer while Bonds was chasing
Aaron's historic record revealed a wide divide in the way black and
white fans viewed his achievements and the accusations of steroid
use.

More than three-quarters of the poll's non-white respondents thought Bonds was being treated unfairly with the doping allegations, compared to just 38 percent of non-Hispanic white fans.

About two-thirds of minority fans said Bonds belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame, while 49 percent of non-Hispanic whites did.

Critics of the race argument point to homemaking diva Martha Stewart and presidential adviser I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby - both of whom served time for perjury - as evidence that if Bonds has been singled out unfairly it's because of the size of his paycheck, not the color of his skin.

They also note the multiracial makeup of the other figures swept up in the steroids scandal linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative.

Like Bonds, New York Yankee's first baseman Jason Giambi, who is
white, was given immunity from criminal prosecution when he
testified before the grand jury looking into BALCO.

Unlike Bonds, Giambi acknowledged taking steroids and has gone on with his career without much fallout.

Two other world-class athletes are in situations even more similar to Bonds'.

After years of denying that she knew a drug her former track coach gave her was a steroid, Olympic track star Marion Jones, who is black, pleaded guilty to two counts of lying to federal investigators about her drug use.

Former Olympic cyclist Tammy Thomas, who is white and received
a lifetime ban from competitive cycling in 2002 after testing positive for steroid use, also has been charged with perjury stemming from her testimony before the BALCO grand jury.

In Millner's view, a face-by-face analysis of the athletes tarnished by the steroids allegations misses the larger point about selective enforcement, as does the suggestion that Bonds would be fairing better if he had a more pleasant public persona.

"Black people may not embrace Barry Bonds, but they look with a jaundiced eye at why Barry and not Karl Rove, why Barry and not the
remaining Enron engineers," Millner said.

"He epitomizes the insular black athlete, and that rubs some wrong."

The ongoing investigation of doping in baseball being led by former Sen. George Mitchell may dispel some of the suspicion that prosecutors reserved a special bulls-eye for Bonds if other current players, especially white pitchers, are implicated and punished, according to Lapchick.

"How long it took them is a sad statement for baseball. They portrayed their whole don't-ask, don't-tell policy about steroids, when a large part of his generation of players probably did the same thing," Lapchick said. "He wasn't doing it himself."


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