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Stephen Brunt

Bonds hits court, and the world yawns Add to ...

It seems an anticlimax now, Barry Bonds finally getting his day in court. Perhaps that's because the obsessive gaze of the public - and, more to the point, of opportunistic American politicians - long ago shifted elsewhere.

When Bonds arrived at a San Francisco courthouse Monday as the process began to select a jury that will decide whether he is guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury, there were no crowds of gawkers gathered outside. No wonder, since this last act of the great BALCO scandal, in which American investigators stumbled into the biggest doping story in the history of U.S. sport, will not be all that entertaining or illuminating.

The sanctity of the U.S. grand jury system may be at issue (Bonds is alleged to have lied under oath), but the sanctity of baseball and its sacred record book, the question of who took what when and how it may have enhanced their ability to hit or throw like supermen, that part is all played out.

Everyone understands now that doping of various sorts was endemic to the game from the late 1980s/early 1990s until the great reckoning in the first decade of the 21st century (and if the casual use of amphetamines by ballplayers is included - as it should be - that timeline stretches back at least three more decades).

And everyone understands that many sets of blind eyes were turned to that reality among players, coaches, managers, general managers, agents, owners, commissioners, the players union and, yes, to a degree, the sports press.

A simple truth: If you don't test for drugs, some athletes will use drugs because they're happy with the risk/reward equation, and even if you do test for drugs, some will try to beat the system for exactly the same reason.

A reasonable person could certainly conclude that Bonds was among those who benefited from the magical properties of THG, becoming baseball's all-time home run king in the process, though because MLB declined to cast a net, there wasn't any way for him to be caught.

In that, he had plenty of company. And in the world of sport, baseball was hardly alone.

For a brief moment, cultural and political currents intersected, turning drugs and the national pastime into a national obsession. The House Un-American Activities Committee under Joe McCarthy and the Watergate hearings carried considerably more historical weight, but there were times when that strange congressional kangaroo court, with grandstanding congressmen quizzing bubblegum-card heroes, had the same kind of hold on the public imagination.

There was an atmosphere of crisis, and it didn't matter that this was happening in the midst of the most medicated society in the history of the planet, or that drug use in what was actually the most popular game in the United States - professional football - was routine and was routinely dealt with through player suspensions, minus any hand-wringing about role models and impressionable youth. When it came to baseball, something had to be done. And thus came the uncomfortable parade of lies and confessions and excuses and transparent denials. Great soap opera, a great morality play, while it lasted.

In that, Bonds was the perfect cartoon villain: ornery, unapologetic, disinclined to offer phony acts of contrition. When they hauled him in front of that grand jury (his testimony was subsequently leaked), he didn't give an inch or appear to give a damn. Neither did his crazy loyal personal trainer Greg Anderson, who, so far, has spent many months in jail for his refusal to testify against his former employer.

Anderson will be called to the stand once more in this trial - and presumably will remain mute. Given that Bonds has assembled a crack legal team in his defence, it's hard to imagine they'll let him anywhere near the stand. So we will hear primarily from others in his life who will tell us what, in effect, we already know. Then it will be up to the jury to decide whether what Bonds said constituted perjury.

Whatever comes out, it will be old news. Old news like those childhood heroes, reaching into the never-empty clubhouse jar of "greenies." And when it comes to moral outrage, truth is, we tend to pick our spots.

 

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