[Marxism] "Damn right race matters!" Dave Zirin on Barry Bonds probe

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Apr 3 03:45:02 MDT 2006

Weekend Edition
April 1 / 2, 2006

You're Damn Right Race Matters

The Press Mob, Their Rope and Barry Bonds


Is Barry Bonds the object of a racist witch-hunt? Over the last week I
have had to publicly argue this issue against some of the finest minds
of my generation (all right, John Rocker and Jose Canseco). In addition,
I have duked it out on talk radio, sports radio, email chats, and
various blogs. The dominant argument I hear repeatedly, whether from Mr.
Rocker or Mr. Liberal Blogger, is that I am an idiot if I think that the
Bonds steroid-mania is all about bigotry run amok. Unfortunately that is
not my argument. 

To be clear: 

I don't think that everyone against Bonds is a racist. I don't think
every sportswriter who wants Bonds punished is a racist. And I certainly
don't think anyone who believes in harsh penalties for steroid use is a
racist. One can hate Barry Bonds and also spend Sundays singing "We
Shall Overcome" with the Harlem Boys Choir before reading select
passages from Go Tell it On The Mountain. But to argue that race has
nothing to do with the saga of Barry Bonds is to practice ignorance
frightening in its Rocker-ian grandiosity. 

Of course you can always simply agree with San Francisco Giants owner
Peter Magowan, CEO of Safeway Supermarkets and anti-union zealot, who
believes that it is a remarkable sign of racial progress that Barry
Bonds is flayed before the public. Magowan said, "I don't believe this
is a case of racism. In fact, I think this shows how far we've come. If
the media brought this up 20 years ago, they would have been considered

Now that's progress. The media can be as racist as they want without
being called on it. 

The fact is that racism smears this entire story like rancid cream
cheese on a stale bialy.

First and foremost, there are the death threats. USA Ttoday reported
yesterday that Bonds is being deluged with letters that threaten his
life, many with overtones about as subtle as a burning cross. Today I
was on a tremendous radio show out of Cincinnati called The Buzz, and we
were deluged with calls by older African-Americans who recalled with
chilling clarity the trials of Henry Aaron. When Aaron approached Babe
Ruth's home run record, the death threats came rolling in. Now that
Bonds is just six behind Ruth's 714, the slurs are returning 32 years
later like a white power Halley's Comet. 

Dr. Harry Edwards, the famed sports sociologist, recently said, "The
same animosity and resentment that Hank Aaron suffered through when he
broke Babe Ruth's record has been exacerbated because of the cloud of
steroid suspicion. This is a visceral response to a black man (passing)
Babe Ruth."

Then, there is the way the media is covering this. There is no question
that Bonds has spent his career treating the press the way a baby treats
a diaper. But Bonds is not the first athlete to sneer at a reporter or
two. In fact Mark McGwire was a notoriously surly personality who was
presented to us like a grinning Paul Bunyon. It's not who you are, but
who the media tells us you are. When it comes to Bonds, the press has
called for everything but a big scarlet S on his chest, all of which has
the appearance of a hellacious double standard. When a prominent ESPN
talk show host says, "If [Bonds] did it, hang him", the perception is
that this is little more than a railroad job of a prominent and
outspoken African-American superstar on the precipice of Ruth and
Aaron's records. 

This is why Louisiana State University professor Leonard Moore can say
with sincerity, "White America doesn't want him to (pass) Babe Ruth and
is doing everything they can to stop him. America hasn't had a white
hope since the retirement of (NBA star) Larry Bird, and once Bonds
passes Ruth, there's nothing that will make (Ruth) unique, and they're
scared. And I'm scared for Bonds."

Finally there is the Major League Baseball establishment itself. This
week they took the extraordinary step of forming a commission to
"investigate and root out steroids in the game" led by former Senator
George Mitchell.

But the probe is already being derided as a sham. How seriously would we
take an investigation into Iraq's missing "weapons of mass destruction"
if it was headed by Dick Cheney? Would we accept an examination of
racial profiling if it was led by John Ashcroft? Of course not. It would
be a farce. And so it is with Senator Mitchell in charge. Mitchell is on
the board of the Boston Red Sox. He is also chairman of The Walt Disney
Co., the parent company of ESPN, the main national broadcast partner of
baseball. In other words, he has an actual material interest in keeping
the spotlight off the owners, including what they knew and when they
knew it, and keeping it on the players. Particularly Barry Bonds. 

According to one writer with a serious pipeline into the commissioner's
office, Richard Justice, the investigation is "Totally [aimed at Barry
Bonds.] He is the number one player going for the most hallowed
record... There may be other names that come out but this is all about
Barry Bonds... Bud wants the prescription, well more than perception,
that he is doing this the right way...I promise you he will not get the
chance to break Hank Aaron's record. I will be willing to bet you. I
think Henry Aaron and Bud Selig will be grilling brauts in Bud's

In other words, this is all smoke in our eyes, blurring the fact that
this really about getting Bonds out of the game before he passes Aaron.
Is this racially motivated? The question is too simplistic. The fact is
that Bud Selig is deflecting criticism off the owners by putting the
heat on the most prominent player in the game who happens to be Black.
Whether this is conjured up in some back room or not is beside the
point. MLB owners seem willing to sacrifice Bonds if it keeps Congress
and the public off their backs. This is why some prominent baseball
people are loudly speaking a word rarely said in the world of sports:

All-star Minnesota Twin Torii Hunter, another of baseball's dwindling
African-American superstars, called the investigation "stupid." "They
can say what they want, but there's no way they would launch an
investigation if Barry Bonds was not about to break Babe Ruth's record,"
Hunter said. "It's so obvious what's going on. He has never failed a
drug test and said he never took steroids, but everybody keeps trying to
disgrace him. How come nobody even talks about Mark McGwire anymore? Or
(Rafael) Palmeiro (who tested positive for steroids in 2005)? Whenever I
go home I hear people say all of the time, 'Baseball just doesn't like
black people.' Here's the greatest hitter in the game, and they're
scrutinizing him like crazy.' It's killing me because you know it's
about race."

Dave Steward, a former 20 game winner and front office exec who now is
an agent, said to one reporter, "People keep talking about how he's not
supposed to keep hitting homers and doing phenomenal things because he's
40-plus. Well, Roger Clemens is 40-plus, too, and nobody ever brings his
name up. Why not? Is it because he's white?"

Matt Lawton, who unlike Bonds has tested positive for steroids, said,
"If (Bonds) were white, he'd be a poster boy in baseball, not an

None of this means that any critique of Bonds is inherently racist or
that there doesn't need to be some way to deal with performance
enhancers. It means that the overheated rhetoric needs to cease. It
means that if baseball decides it doesn't want steroids in its game, and
wants to "clean up its own house" it should realize that it is cheap,
gutter politics to focus on one person as if that person is the root of
all anabolic evil. They should realize that in the current climate, it
emboldens a racist fringe. If they don't realize it, we sure as hell

A couple years ago, Bonds said, "This is something we, as
African-American athletes, live with every day. I don't need a headline
that says, 'Bonds says there's racism in the game of baseball.' We all
know it. It's just that some people don't want to admit it. They're
going to play dumb like they don't know what the hell is going on."

That is absolutely right. It's not defenders of Bonds who are putting
race on the table, but whether you are a Bonds supporter or not, all
anti-racists need to take it off. 

Dave Zirin is the author of "'What's My name Fool?'": Sports and
Resistance in the united States. He is speaking at the conference
Socialism 2006, June 22-25, in New York City, with Etan Thomas and Toni
Smith. See www.socialismconference.org. Contact him at
dave at edgeofsports.com 

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