Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bond Trial: What Was the Point, Again?

If you sat through Wednesday's news that disgraced slugger Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice in the federal government's case against BALCO (which was also a symbolic trial of the entire Steroids Era in baseball) and wondered what the point of the whole thing was, you're not alone.

Prosecutors couldn't get Bonds on perjury -- the jury deadlocked on all three charges against him. They only managed to get the obstruction of justice charge because jurors felt Bonds evaded questions during his grand jury testimony.

By that logic ... shouldn't Dick Cheney be behind bars?

So, with a potentially bogus obstruction of justice conviction -- which carries a maximum of sentence of 10 years in prison, even though Bonds is unlikely to face jail time -- and what's likely to be a length appeals process (oh, and the government can file the perjury charges again, if it so chooses), the question begs asking: what's the point?

Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine, takes the whole thing to task in his recent column, The Great American Witch-Hunt: How Barry Bonds Became a Convicted Felon. A snippet:

As BALCO founder Victor Conte—who is no friend of Bondssaid to USA Today, "This verdict absolutely makes no sense to me. Of all of these counts, the one that makes the least sense to me is the obstruction charge. Tell me how there was obstruction of justice. This is all about the selected persecution of Barry Bonds. This is not fair. I was the heavy in this. I accepted full responsibility and the consequences and went to prison. How is that obstruction? Doesn't make sense.”

It doesn’t. After all the public money, drama, and hysterics, this is what we’re left with. He was “evasive." Keep in mind that we live in a country where the US Department of Justice has not pursued one person for the investment banking fraud that cratered the US economy in 2008. Not one indictment has been issued to a single Bush official on charges of ordering torture or lying to provoke an invasion of Iraq. Instead, we get farcical reality television like the US vs. Barry Bonds.

This was a trial where you longed for the somber dignity of a Judge Judy. Since Anderson wouldn’t talk, the government was left with two real witnesses: Kimberly Bell, Bond's mistress, brought in to discuss his sexual dysfunctions resulting from steroids, and Steve Hoskins, the business manager whom Bonds fired for alleged theft and fraud. But their real star was a once-anonymous IRS official named Jeff Novitsky, who has proudly seen Bonds as an all-consuming obsession, US Constitution be damned.

Look, I'm no Bonds apologist. But doesn't anyone else find a bit strange that the majority of the government's focus in prosecuting steroid use in professional sports has largely focused in on him? Is it because he's the sport's all-time leading home run hitter? Someone who allegedly manufactured his numbers in a sport where numbers mean more than anything?

Is it because Bonds was never friendly with the media? Is it because, heaven forbid, Bonds is black? Where's this level of outrage and condemnation for someone like Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire? The former is accused of taking steroids and lying about it; the latter has finally admitted he juiced.

I know Clemens will have his day in court, but the outrage surrounding his case doesn't even come close to Bonds. But think about this ... if the federal government wants to get in the business of prosecuting steroids in baseball (which, as Zirin pointed out, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder said they wouldn't do), why not focus more on the dealers who supplied the drugs?

Why not focus on the owners and Major League Baseball officials who looked the other way as players bulked up, balls went flying out of ballparks and more money flowed in than anyone knew what to do with? They're just as culpable as the players in this, if not more so.

Frankly, the government has gibber fish to dry than a player who was a surefire Hall of Famer before greed and jealousy led him to take performance-enhancing drugs. While the federal government has been pouring in millions of dollars to prosecute Bonds, not one grand jury has convened to investigate the financial firms who led us into economic collapse.

Tank the economy, get a pass and a bailout. Take steroids to hit a baseball farther, and face potential jail time.

Doesn't that seem screwed up to anyone?

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