Thursday, March 16, 2006

Barry Bonds: Victim?

When I lived in Missouri and had a subscription to the Kansas City Star, I looked forward to Jason Whitlock's columns in the sports section. I didn't agree with him all that often, but he raised issues I thought needed raising, and he continues to do so now when he writes about football on But now he's written about Barry Bonds, and here's how he starts his column:

"You can write and say whatever you want about Barry Bonds now. He's the new O.J. Simpson, on trial for threatening to murder the legacies of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

Even though it certainly appears Barry juiced on his way to 700 home runs, it doesn't seem fair that he's receiving the same treatment as The Juice."

He's reacting to the vituperative criticism of Bonds' alleged steroid use among members of the sports media, a reaction I agree with, in part--at times, the anger seems like an overreaction, especially given the underreported longtime use of amphetamines among athletes.

But murder? Bonds is receiving the same treatment as O. J.? Those first two paragraphs exemplify why I hate that writing teachers tell their students to open with a "hook": usually the hook ends up in the writer's cheek.

But Whitlock's problem extends beyond the opening:

"If McGwire, Sosa, money-hungry owners and spineless, jersey-chasing, look-the-other-way, hypocritical baseball writers caused Bonds to use steroids, then I feel sorry for Bonds.

He's a victim in all of this, no different than the kids who turn to steroids because they want to be just like Barry Bonds." [Note: I added the italics.]

Whitlock's idea of causality disturbs me because, rather than just expose the lack of nuance Bonds' critics often write with, he runs away from nuance himself, claiming that Bonds gave in to jealousy fermented by the media. And we all get jealous, right? That's Whitlock's argument: Bonds deserves our sympathy because he acted out of jealousy, as we all do. Between murder and jealousy, Whitlock's sense of scale is way off.

Still, I think I should acknowledge the very good point Whitlock makes in his column: most people react the way they do to Bonds because they refuse to see him as human. I like Whitlock's attempt to humanize a player most fans (including me) dislike, even if I think Whitlock doesn't succeed in this instance.


Soggy Bear said...

BTW, I could have guessed your blog would be brown.

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