MLB's Own Performance-Enhancement Problem
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. For the past couple of years, it's been hard to find a news story that contains the name Barry Bonds without the words allegations or steroids. Commentator Rich Gentile says that even when Bonds hit the 715th home run of his career on Sunday, everybody watching had steroids on the mind.
RICK GENTILE: Barry Bonds may be number two on baseball's all-time home run list, but among fans and the media, he's public enemy number one. Bonds clearly is the focus of major-league baseballs investigation into past abuses, despite denials from Commissioner Bud Selig's office. Why? It's easy to single out bonds because he is, simply put, an extremely unlikable character. He has seemed to thrive on being abrasive to the hordes of media types who hover around the game, and he has been ripped mercifully by them as a result. But my threshold question here is why is major league baseball itself not public enemy number one in the steroid controversy? Why does MLB and it's commissioner seem to get a free pass when it is the owners who have benefited the most from the steroid era? Television and radio revenue has risen exponentially since the players bulked up and started hitting home runs at record rates.
Those players grew physically under the noses of team owners, but the owner's revenue also grew, and nothing was said or done. So what has major league baseball done? A stricter drug policy was put in place last year with increased penalties for offenders. Then, earlier this year, Selig appointed former senator George Mitchell to head up the investigation of past abuses. But Mitchell sits on the ownership board of the Boston Red Soxs. He is chairman of the board of Disney, whose ESPN division has a multi-billion dollar broadcast relationship with MLB. Clearly, he is conflicted. As a solution to the controversy, it has been suggested that perhaps the tainted records should be asterisked. Asterisk the tainted records?
How about giving back the tainted money? How dare the commissioner's office suggest that the real issue here is that Barry Bonds records are tainted. This is a situation where the first stone simply must be cast by someone other than the lords of baseball. They are surely not without sin, and how much of a factor is race in all of this? In a recent poll I was director of, conducted by Seton Hall University, 35 percent of African-Americans felt that his race was the primary reason Bonds has gotten the most attention in the steroid controversy. Only two percent felt that way among non African-Americans. The split along racial lines is more than a little troubling. The perception is not that he's being falsely accused, but that he is being treated differently than other alleged offenders because of his race.
Bonds is the lightening rod of the steroid controversy. But does that make it okay to single him out? In essence, to symbolically crucify him, and in so doing somehow render all the other sinners cleansed. It seems to me that Bonds' unpopularity is being used by the lords of baseball to make him a convenient scapegoat. Before they wash their hands of the steroid issue by identifying Barry Bonds as the cause of all of this, perhaps the lords of baseball should look in the mirror.
ELLIOTT: Rick Gentile teaches at the Center for Sports Management at Seton Hall University. He's a former senior vice president at CBS Sports.
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