If you haven't despised Barry Bonds up to now, just read the cover story in the latest Sports Illustrated: "The Truth: Barry Bonds and Steroids," by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. After that, you'll probably find "despise" too mild a word.
The cover story is an excerpt of Game of Shadows (due out March 27), a book grounded in more than a thousand pages of documents, as well as interviews with more than two hundred people. The authors obtained secret grand jury testimony of Barry Bonds and seven other prominent professional athletes. They studied confidential memoranda that detailed federal agents' interviews with other athletes and trainers who had direct knowledge of BALCOa small Burlingame, California, nutrition company that has supplied performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.
To put it briefly, "Barry, you're busted." Though Bonds has repeatedly denied using, or knowingly using, such drugs, the book shows that he gulped as many as 20 pills at a time, and injected himself with a syringe, placed drops of liquid under his tongue, and spread a cream on his body. In his first 100 days of combining drugs with a rigorous weight-training regimen, he put on 15 pounds of muscle. He would have had to have been a complete moron to not know that he was using steroids and drugs.
Then again, Bonds has for some time been an emotional moron. He's been surly with the public, the press, and his teammates for yearsusing the F-word liberally to make his point when he wanted to intimidate. His relationship with women is hardly enlightened. The excerpt shows him sexually using and verbally abusing women (holding a girlfriend by the throat while threatening her death), cheating on his new wife days after their honeymoon, and casting lovers off at will ("You have to do something for me," he told one woman. "You need to disappear").
The excerpt also shows Barry's virulent reverse racism, a deep-seated prejudice that pushed him over the steroid edge. In 1998, he was furious that the white Mark McGwire was getting so much press attention for merely hitting home runs, while the full-package Bonds (who could hit for power and average, steal bases, and play defense) was hardly given the time of day. He would show them. The winter after McGwire's home run extravaganza, he began his drug and workout regimen.
So for very good reasons, in the coming days and weeks, there will be lots of venom directed at Bonds in sports magazines, on cable TV, and especially on sports talk shows. There will be talk of heads rolling and reform and banning Bonds from baseballall of which desperately need to be done. There will be incisive analysis of "What went wrong with baseball?" and "Will it ever be able to recover from this?" and "Who's really at fault?" And everyonefrom the owners, with their insatiable appetite for revenue, to the fan in the third deck, with his insatiable appetite to be entertainedwill be indicted. I will join in the dance of righteous anger, and I, too, will gladly point the finger at a number of the guilty.
But I hope I have the honesty to not cast the first stone. Because I am the fan who relished watching McGwire chase Roger Maris's record in 1998, and marveled at Bonds when he demolished that record just a few years later (and didn't stop to think how this massive power suddenly became possible). I'm the white guy who occasionally wonders if an African American or Hispanic got the job merely because of his race. I'm the father/husband/friend who has lost his temper and said intemperate things. I'm the taxpayer who wonders about claiming that cash honorarium as income. I'm the journalist who is tempted to cut corners or sacrifice my family on the altar of getting one more thing published so my star might rise a tad higher than the fellow next to me.
I hate what I see in Barry Bonds, but I hate it all the more because I see it in myself: "They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, decept, and malice" (Rom. 1:29).
Lord, have mercy on Barry; he desperately needs it. But he's hardly alone.
Mark Galli is managing editor of Christianity Today.
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Earlier Play Ball columns include:
Heavy Medal | At the Olympics, if you don't medal, you certainly must be a loser. By Mark Moring (Feb. 23, 2006)
Opening Ceremony Blues | The Olympics is symbolic, but not of world peace. By Mark Galli (Feb. 16, 2006)
Punches, Smashes, and Bombs | Boxing gives us a window into the violence inherent in all sports. By Mark Galli (Nov. 11, 2006)
Should We Ban Boxing? | The usual arguments against the "sweet science" cut many ways. By Mark Galli (Oct. 28, 2005)
Something Noble and Good | Professional sports is often boring, but real sports is not. By Mark Galli (May 13, 2005)
The Lovely Paradox of NFL Draft Day | It's an event of biblical proportionsand wisdom. By Mark Galli (April 29, 2005)
Negotiating Sunday Sports | This culture war was lost long ago. Now what? By Mark Galli (April 15, 2005)
The Prodigal Sports Fan | There is hope for the idolater. By Mark Galli (April 08, 2005)
The Thirst of the 24/7 Fan | Understanding the idolatry in sports. By Mark Galli (March 01, 2005)
March Madnesses | The layers of insanity know no endthank God. By Mark Galli (March. 18, 2005)
Spectating as a Spiritual Discipline | For those who have eyes to watch, let them watch something more than highlight films. By Mark Galli (March 11, 2005)
The Grace of Sports | If Christ can't be found in sports, he can't be found the modern world. By Mark Galli (March 4, 2005)
Baseball Isn't Entertainment | The sooner we stop thinking sports are about the spectators, the more enjoyable the games will be. By Mark Galli (Feb. 25, 2005)
Rooting for T.O. | Why Terrell Owens irritates most of us most of the time. By Mark Galli (Feb. 11, 2005)
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