Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Barry's defense: I didn't know

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

In opening statements, Barry Bonds' attorney said Bonds' personal trainer misled him when he gave him steroids, according to ESPN. Bonds, the attorney said, was deceived into thinking he was using flaxseed oil and arthritus cream.

"I know that doesn't make a great story," attorney Allen Ruby said. "But that's what happened."

Actually, it sounds like moral justification. That's what happens when people get caught with their hand in the cookie jar and try to justify it by saying they didn't realize what was inside the jar.

Moral justification normally has a negative connotation, but it can have a positive connotation, according to some ethical experts.

"The positive sense of justification, on the other hand, involves bringing others to see our actions as reasonable. In this sense, a course of action is justified if there are better reasons in favor of it than there are against it. Preferably, these reasons should be ones that other people could agree are good ones. It is this sense of justification that is important for morality. Moral justification, then, means showing that there are more or better moral reasons weighing for a course of action than against it," writes Chris MacDonald on EthicsWeb.

If we want to remain morally positive and responsible in this case, however, we must ask of Bonds: Was it reasonable to see huge gains in muscle mass from flaxseed oil and arthritis cream? If he was really being duped by his trainer, he must not have questioned the treatment. Is Bonds that oblivious to the truth (which, he now admits, was that he was being treated with steroids)?

Perhaps that's why ESPN describes Bond as "slouched in his chair" during his federal trial on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Part of the defense appears to be to present Bonds as somewhat less than the sharpest tack on the bench. However, that runs counter to Bonds' educational history. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in criminology. If I was on the jury, I'd have a hard time buying that.

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