What is the political equivalent of steroids?
I probably should begin by saying that, as a dedicated nonfan of organized sports in general, I really was not wowed when, on Aug. 7, Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s 1974 home-run record.
For one thing, I’ve found myself waffling between extremes over the whole steroids controversy. If Bonds wanted to boost his power by taking harmful drugs, who am I to gainsay him? Right?
But, on the other hand, baseball and sports in general have long held themselves up as examples of the best in human competition, endeavors in which everything comes down to elemental values and basic truths. Which, of course, all flies out the window when you learn that some of the biggest stars have been cheating like card sharks with aces up their sleeves.
Of course, as Bonds and his fans are quick to point out, he’s never flunked a steroids test, although he is reported to have once tested positive for amphetamines, a strange thing for a sports celeb to be taking since it generally wastes the body and reduces stamina. But, hey, whatever blows your skirt up, as they say.
Before I get to my real point here, let’s take a look at ol’ Barry. Raised in San Mateo, Calif., he is related to other famous ballplayers, including his dad, major league all-star Bobby Bonds, and a cousin, Reggie Jackson.
He is the holder of so many records that his entry in the Wikipedia on-line information source may well set a record of its own for length. He batted .467 as a varsity player in his senior year of high school, and has been setting and breaking records ever since.
The San Francisco Giants, in fact, tried to hire him in his senior year, but negotiations went nowhere, leaving him to go to college (he has a degree in criminology from Arizona State University) and then start his major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Suffice it to say that he’s had a career that makes him one of the best players ever, but did he do it on the strength of hard work, perseverance and determination, or did he do it with drugs?
Steroids, without a doubt, have made him a household name, whether he used them or not. Some people think he lied under oath during a federal investigation four years ago, and that he’s lying still, when he admitted using some creams his trainer gave him but said he had no idea they might have been steroids, which the sport banned in 2002.
One question now is, what would happen to Bonds’ record if he is ever proven to have taken steroids? Pete Rose was banned from baseball in 1989 for gambling on games. But his record as all-time hits leader still stands. Bonds, who is a shoo-in for Hall of Fame membership, certainly would receive similar treatment.
So, if I really don’t care about all this sports hoo-hah, why have I devoted so much ink to this matter?
Well, it’s like this.
I have long considered sports to be the latest broad-based attempt by our social engineers to distract us from the real questions and problems we might otherwise tackle, such as poverty and the inequitable distribution of wealth around the globe, environmental degradation and corporate malfeasance, government corruption, etc. The list is long.
Religion was once described as the opiate of the masses. Could sports be the new religion? It does seem to fit, doesn’t it?
Take the pre-eminence of sports used as social commentary, a framework in which we can examine all sorts of human foibles and frailties. Was it mere happenstance that the only way a politically charged Hunter S. Thompson could meet with then-President Richard M. Nixon on the campaign trail was if he agreed to talk about nothing but sports?
It would seem that sports have become the light by which we see ourselves, and Barry Bonds’ suspected cheating strikes at the heart of our self-perception.
What a boon it would be if we, as a society, could shift our concentrated gaze from the diamond or the gridiron, and focus instead on the damaged political landscape, seeing it for the warped and perverted arena of greed and self-interest that it has become.
If steroids are the symbol of all that’s wrong with sports, and if lust for wealth and power play the same symbolic role in politics, then wouldn’t it be nice if there were some evil drug we could point to and eliminate to fix that mess?