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SPORTS: Awaiting a tainted 'greatest' moment in sports

July 30, 2007

Do the words "integrity" and "sports" belong in the same sentence?

Worse, does anyone care?

By the time you read this, Barry Bonds, a Giant in uniform but hardly a giant of a man, may have become baseball's alltime home-run king.

His inexorable pursuit of Henry Aaron's magical mark of 755 has been well-documented. So, too, has been the overwhelming evidence implicating Bonds as a user of steroids.

Thus, what should be one of baseball's greatest moments is instead one of its most shameful. Bonds is reviled from coast to coast excepting, of course, that part of the West Coast that is the Bay Area.

There, Bonds still is considered an immortal, revered not reviled, for he is one of their very own. Would we here in Indy still place one of our athletes on a pedestal if his greatness were artificially enhanced? I would hope not, but you never know.

However, to single out Bonds also is unfair. He is merely the most notable product of baseball's steroid era. The game's notorious lack of a significant testing program, with equally significant penalties for those who did the "juice," casts into doubt perhaps all records and achievements over a span of 20 to 25 years.

And that obviously includes Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and their Home Run Derby seasons.

In the NBA, we have a referee embroiled in a possible game-fixing scandal that has possible ties to organized crime. Certainly with NBA players awash in millions of dollars in cash and endorsements, it is reasonable to believe they are beyond the lure of gamblers. But a referee, whose calls could easily orchestrate the outcome of a game, is another matter entirely. And lest we not forget, the NBA has long been a league accused of, shall we say, helping produce results the public and big markets would most like to see.

Years ago, I used to dismiss the conspiracy-against-small-market theorists as wackos, especially those around here who thought the Pacers were always playing five-on-eight in the playoffs. Now I have to wonder, if not five-on-eight, was there ever a case when they went five-on-six?

At the very least, I wouldn't be surprised if teams around the league were now looking closely at video of games in which Tim Donaghy was an official and summarily scrutinizing his calls.

And if this whole potentially scandalous mess hasn't given Commissioner David Stern some restless nights, he's more of a Pollyanna than I thought.

But again, it doesn't end there. Since February, for assorted rules violations all aimed at gaining a competitive edge, NASCAR crew chiefs for Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sandler, Scott Riggs, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have been fined and/or suspended. It appears they bend not only fenders, but rules.

Barely a day goes by without another allegation, another suspension, another assault on fairness and the concept of a level playing field.

Yet even the same fans who criticize Bonds and want an asterisk to be placed by his record would just as quickly say that stealing signs, spitballs and corked bats are just part of the game ... as long as you don't get caught.

Are notorious spitballer Gaylord Perry and Joe Neikro, who used emery boards and sandpaper to doctor baseballs, just as guilty of rules-breaking as Bonds? As the saying goes, can you be just a little pregnant?

What's sad is that the non-cheaters get caught in the same net of suspicion or, worse, in the belief that they have to cheat because everyone else does. Defenders of Bonds will tell you he was facing steroidstoked pitchers. Hey, you've got to fight the juice with the juice, don't you?

How will history regard Bonds? In the short term, not kindly. Surely, even with the all-time home-run record in his pocket, it's difficult to think he will immediately be escorted into the Hall of Fame when he is first eligible. If Pete Rose isn't in the Hall, can there really be a place for Bonds?

And who doesn't think that, sometime in the next few years, there won't be further revelations concerning baseball's not-sosecret secret? At some point, someone will blab, probably when there's big money to be made in return for a confession.

Bonds seems perfectly content with who he is and the legitimacy of his soon-to-be record. In his world, it's the rest of us who have a problem. As disturbing as that notion is, perhaps it's true.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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