The Sports World Should Stop Mincing Words

By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, July 16, 2007; 4:39 PM

We live, these days, in a world that becomes more absurd by the moment.

A man who is convicted of leaking information that could affect national security has his sentence commuted by a President who invokes national security as an excuse for not revealing what he or anyone on his staff had for breakfast. An heiress whose major talents appear to be being blonde, stupid and rich, becomes the subject of non-stop media coverage because she goes to jail on a DUI conviction (spending more time in jail, by the way, than the national security leaker) and then uses her release from prison to launch a new clothing line.

The world of sports is no different. The rule these days is to find 15 different ways to not tell the truth, regardless of the subject. Let us begin -- sadly -- with baseball's ongoing hostage crisis, the saga of Barry Bonds. If ever a sport has desperately needed for a superstar to go away, it is baseball and Bonds, who now says he wants to play again next year. Baseball needs another year of Bonds about as much as the world needs a TV show co-hosted by Scooter Libby and Paris Hilton.

There aren't 10 people outside the city of San Francisco who don't believe every word of "Game of Shadows," the book that reveals in painful detail Bonds' decision to start using steroids in 1999 and how it changed his body, his life and baseball history. In fact, it is quite probable that most people in San Francisco believe the book too -- they just don't care. He hits home runs, he won the city a pennant in 2002 and he helped get a gorgeous new ballpark built. So he may be a cheat, but he's their cheat.

Fine.

The rest of us remain in captivity. Bonds speaks at the All-Star break and, out of one side of his mouth he says he has no problem with Hank Aaron saying he won't be there when Bonds breaks his all-time home run record (current numbers: Aaron-755, Bonds-751). Then, out of the other side of his mouth, declares he will be right there (if) when Alex Rodriguez breaks his record six, seven or eight years from now. English translation: I'm a better guy than Hank Aaron.

Of course, that's, to use a polite word, baloney. Bonds knows why Aaron won't be there; everyone knows why Aaron won't be there. The only problem is Aaron won't say why he won't be there. In keeping with today's jock mores, he keeps circling the subject, talking about not wanting to travel or being busy or just not much feeling like hanging around waiting for a home run. English translation: Bonds is a cheat, he's a jerk and I have no interest in honoring him for a single second.

If he said that, then he would force Bonds to respond in English, rather than winking and saying, "Oh, I have no problem with Hank Aaron." But, since no one in sports speaks directly to any issue anymore, the two men just circle one another.

The same is true of Commission Bud (Hamlet) Selig.

To be there or not to be there (when Bonds hits number 756), that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to shake the hand of a cheat who I helped get away with cheating for years or to finally stand up and say, "ENOUGH!" Get thee to a nunnery that day rather than a ballpark!

Apologies to Shakespeare. The point though is this: Selig's waffling and warbling on the issue is ridiculous. Everyone knows he doesn't want to be there, that he loves Aaron and can't stand Bonds and what Bonds stands for. And yet, everyone knows that unless Selig gets lucky and Bonds breaks the record during Hall of Fame weekend (July 28-29) when Selig is already committed to being in Cooperstown to honor two true Hall of Famers, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, he's going to be there.

Some say he should be there because he's as culpable as Bonds because he and the owners turned their back on steroids for years. No doubt everyone is guilty: Selig, the owners, the player's union, the media -- no one is innocent. But the notion that Selig should somehow sanction this cheating by shaking Bonds's hand in what will be one of the most insincere gestures in sports history is ludicrous.


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