Barry Bonds says that sportswriters are a evil, lying bunch. The SF Chronicle’s Gwen Knapp confesses that once again, Barry is correct.
Barry Bonds is right. I have lied. A lot of sportswriters lie. We cover for athletes all the time.
We did it when we followed Mark McGwire in 1998 and failed to ask the appropriate questions. I was especially guilty, because I believed back then what Jose Canseco is writing now: That McGwire didn’t hit 70 home runs on hard work alone. Yet, I said nothing. I thought my silence amounted to fairness, because I didn’t have proof. But I remember very clearly thinking: If I were Barry Bonds, watching this spectacle, knowing what is being left unsaid, knowing that I’m twice the player McGwire is, I would spend my offseason looking for the same power boost.
The press, by celebrating McGwire’s home-run record without scrutiny, invited every other ballplayer into the world of doping. That’s why I have never seen the steroid scandal as Barry-centric. He is responsible for whatever he has done, but he’s not uniquely villainous or dishonest. We are all complicit.
I have lied about Bonds, too, but not in the way he meant when he went after the media at his spring-training debut on Tuesday. The first time I saw him in 2001, I said to myself: “He’s juiced.” I didn’t say it in this column because, again, I didn’t have proof. But I was sure of it.
I have committed several more lies of omission since Bonds was implicated in the BALCO case a year and a half ago. I covered his 700th home run and never once mentioned that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t reach the milestone naturally. I had plenty of excuses — a brutal deadline, a reluctance to draw a cloud over the celebration, an inability to introduce such an important topic without letting it become the entire story. It was cowardice as much as anything, but it was a lie, too.
I have no excuses. These aren’t mistakes. I make a lot of those, just like any other human being. It’s one of the reasons I find it excruciating to attack athletes for errors on the field.
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that every time an athlete dies young, I wonder if steroids played a role. Or that every time a rich athlete commits an act of violence, I have the same concern.
I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that Bonds has started sounding like a Karl Rove client. His talking points had a familiar ring.
Can’t find any weapons of mass destruction? Change the subject to democracy in Iraq.
Don’t want to answer questions about what you said to the BALCO grand jury? Pretend that it’s a pending legal issue, even though you have immunity and the federal prosecutor in the case has already said that all the athletes can repeat their testimony in public.
Don’t care to say whether you have used steroids, either wittingly or not? Change the subject to the evils of drinking and smoking.