Why the Barry Bonds Verdict Matters

What are the implications of the jury decision that Barry Bonds had obstructed justice but was not found guilty of perjuring himself before a grand jury?
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What are the implications of the jury decision that Barry Bonds had obstructed justice but was not found guilty of perjuring himself before a grand jury in claiming that he never knowingly used steroids?

Fan Reactions
Bonds had become the most compelling symbol of the steroids era in baseball, but the magnitude of moral outrage toward the all-time home run leader, for presumably putting a permanent stain on the integrity of the game, has been replaced by a widespread attitude of indifference.

Over the last dozen or so years the court of public opinion regarding the prevalence of p.e.d.'s in sports has transitioned through five phases of reactions. These phases comprise what I have coined as "The Whatever Syndrome" and can be described as follows:
  • Phase I: Blissful Innocence -- Suspicions about artificial enhancement are overridden by the need and wish to believe in the untainted talent of our heroes. Denial is a major component in this stage of the process, and it is dismantled only gradually.
  • Phase II: Acceptance of the Reality -- The evidence and media reports compel us to recognize the truth, that many of our cherished sports stars have cheated their way into the record book.
  • Phase III: Anger -- The necessity of relinquishing our belief in the unequivocal goodness of our idolized sports heroes generates resentment and anger. The loss of the bubble of our imagined connection to unblemished greatness can be painful.
  • Phase IV: Cynicism -- When clean athletes produce superior performance, their feats are viewed with skepticism.
  • Phase V: Apathy -- A large majority of the public has become numb to the magnitude of corruption behavior in sports. Many fans no longer care and react with indifference to new scandals involving athletes and p.e.d.'s.

Sportswriters Reactions
As a result of Bonds's well known contemptuous and dismissive treatment of the writers, many of them will celebrate the guilty part of the verdict as comeuppance for his arrogance. At the extreme margins, are those writers who have gone overboard in erroneously labeling Bonds as a sociopath. Such articles reflect sloppy and inflammatory journalism, because Bonds does not meet the DSM IV criteria for sociopathy; and his reported personality characteristics seem to be more consistent with a narcissistic classification.

Others have defined him as a victim of a witch hunt, who was being excessively prosecuted for his unlikeable qualities; and these Bonds apologists appear to be indulging in selective inattention in underplaying the fact that in the American judicial system it is not an option to not tell the truth or to obfuscate before a grand jury.

Other Player Reactions
The jury deadlock on the perjury charges unfortunately will embolden some players to use p.e.d.'s. The media have consistently reminded us that the steroids era is over, and they point to the reduced number of home runs in 2010 as evidence in support of that premise. At the same time the revelation that Manny Ramirez -- who like Bonds portrays an attitude of doing the world according to Manny -- chose to retire after testing positive for p.e.d.'s for the third time and facing a 100 game suspension, suggests that the problem is still with us.

The health and psychological hazards related to steroids has been repeatedly documented, but the reality is that despite the self destructive implications, many athletes will always seek an edge in enhancing their performance. Former major league pitcher, Bobby Ojeda, has captured this mindset in astutely questioning, "Did we cross the line of concern for our long term health? When you are twenty-one and chasing a dream, there is no line".

The Effect On Kids
It is a truism that kids will do anything to emulate their sports heroes, and the lack of a conviction for perjury will encourage some toward a suspension of disbelief about Bonds's integrity and to hold on to the illusion that Bonds was clean. It is worth noting that the jurors acknowledged that they all believed that he had used p.e.d.'s, but in the absence of Greg Anderson's testimony there wasn't sufficient proof.

Bonds's indirect message to his adoring fans has been that it is OK to cheat in order to get ahead, and if you get caught; the solution is to try to lie your way out of it. For too many kids the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of identifying with tainted athletes, and it needs to be rewound in a way that prompts them to internalize the importance of traits such as character and integrity.

Bonds has emerged relatively unscathed from the trial and will most likely not receive any jail time at the May 20 hearing; but he could have spared himself a lot of grief and presented himself as a better role model by playing ball with the grand jury, instead of playing hardball with the truth. He seemingly lied to protect his legacy as the home run champion without regard for the destructive impact on his adoring young followers. The takeaway for kids is to remember that despite the jury deadlock on the perjury counts, Bonds is now officially a felon.

Author of Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side and Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols

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