Sunday, December 05, 2004

For the Record, It Shouldn't Matter What Barry Knew

The leaked grand jury testimony of Barry Bonds, admitting to the use of a "clear" and a "cream" supplied by his trainer, but denying any knowledge that these substances contained anabolic steroids or human growth hormone, makes for a scandal that shakes baseball at its core. The quasi-confirmation of suspicions surrounding Bonds are of much greater significance to baseball than the open admission by Jason Giambi or the charges swirling around other players. Bonds matters most, because he holds one of the most important records in baseball, the single season home run record, and is in line to break another, Hank Aaron's lifetime home run mark.

Bonds insists he believed that the substances he used were a rubbing balm for arthritis and a nutritional supplement flaxseed oil. Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate's Commerce Committee with the authority to oversee professional sports, was understandably skeptical of Bonds's claim: "As a sports fan, and knowing Mr. Bonds the way I do, who knows every calorie and everything that he takes into his body, it's difficult for me to believe," McCain said.

Lost in much of the discussion of Bonds's claims of ignorance is the fact that his culpability should have nothing to do with whether his records ought to be recognized. To recognize a record is not a reward and to refuse to recognize that record is not a punishment. The validity of the record does not depend upon issues of mens rea. When a record in track and field is disqualified because of wind speed, no one complains that this is unfair to the athlete. A record is meant to afford legitimate comparisons to performances past and future. To accomplish such intergenerational comparisons, we must have reason to believe we are comparing what is commensurable. Bonds admits to using substances provided to him by Gary Anderson, Bonds's friend and alleged merchant of designer steroids. If baseball wishes to preserve the integrity of its most esteemed records, it should move to strike from its books any record Bonds has set in the past four years.

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|| headland, 4:13 PM


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