November 21, 2007

Commentary:

Bonds Innocent Until Proven Guilty

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
New America Media

President Bush did the right thing when he said that he wouldn’t make any public comment about the five count federal indictment of former San Francisco Giants slugger and home run king Barry Bonds.

The press and public should do the same and not rush to judgment about Bonds’ guilt.

An indictment is not an admission of guilt, let alone a conviction. But public silence about Bonds’ presumed guilt is about as likely as a blizzard in the Sahara Desert in July. Or maybe giddiness at Bonds’ plight is the more apt characterization to describe the unvarnished joy that the legions of Bonds’ haters almost certainly had at the news of his indictment. The unabashed orgy of Bond’s vilification has been brutal and relentless, and that’s before Bond’s was accused of any wrongdoing.

The moment, however, there was the hint that Bonds might have laced his body with performance enhancing steroids, the growth of the “hate Bonds” industry took off like a rocket. The industry soared to stratospheric heights when Bonds surpassed rhapsodic American icon Babe Ruth. It propelled out of the galaxy when Bonds surpassed Hank Aaron on the all-time home run chart.

The Bash Bonds club sports a formidable line-up. It includes top sportswriters, legions of fans, and advertisers: Bonds hasn’t gotten a paid corporate endorsement deal in ages. Then there’s the man at the top in Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, whose duck and dodge of Bonds from the time he chased Ruth and Aaron’s record sent the powerful signal that Bonds isn’t worthy of wearing the label, “King of Swat.” At least that is without an asterisk in front of the label. And with the indictment, the clamor for an asterisk after his record will be forgotten. The clamor now will be to exorcise his home run record from the books, and if possible, any mention of him from baseball.

Bonds has run neck-and-neck with O.J. Simpson as the man much of the public loves to loathe for two tormenting reasons. One is race, and the other is Bonds. The two are not inseparable. A big, rich, famous, surly, blunt-talking black superstar who routinely thumbs his nose at the media sets off all kind of bells and whistles in the public mind.

Outspoken blacks, especially black superstars and especially those who engage in bad boy behavior, are often slammed harder than white superstars who do the same. Bonds, for his part — more than any other ball player in living memory — seemed to take special delight in irritating the heck out of sportswriters, fans, and the baseball establishment. He says what he thinks, and when he wants to, and doesn’t care who he offends. That defies — or defiles, take your pick — the pristine, storybook, nostalgic image of what sports heroes should be, and how they should comport themselves. It makes no difference that Bonds is no bigger a jerk in his boorish, sulking, spoiled behavior than other legendary superstars — and that certainly includes Ruth — but coming from him it just seems to rub nerves even rawer.

Then there’s race. Major League Baseball, as all other professional sports in America, is not race-neutral. The man that Bonds beat out for the all-time home run top spot knows that. Packs of fans, sportswriters, and some players choked at the thought that Aaron could break the hallowed record of baseball’s greatest white icon, Ruth. Aaron received mountains of hate mail, vicious taunts, and threats to his family. He was surrounded by a squad of security guards at ballparks and armed guards off the field.

Bonds got the Aaron treatment: the taunts, hate mail, the snubs from the baseball brass, sportswriter ridicule at every step of the way in his march toward the home run record. The only thing that was missing was having the N word incessantly tossed at him (at least openly) as it was routinely at Aaron.

Bonds’ indictment was a foregone conclusion. When the feds went after the biggest name in track and field, Marion Jones, for lying to a grand jury — and she came clean on her use of steroids, and copped a plea to avoid a long prison stretch — that was a huge tip that Bonds’ days were numbered and that he’d be next. The indictment doesn’t charge him with taking steroids, but that he lied about injections and knowingly took them. This is the finest legal hair splitting, and Bonds’ may ultimately come clean and admit he used the drugs. But that hasn’t happened yet, and until it does, Bush was right. Bonds is still innocent until proven guilty — or confesses.

New America Media Associate Editor Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press) hutchinsonreport@aol.com

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