Monday, March 21, 2011

Bonds' steroid question may go unresolved

by Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

The trial of Barry Bonds has begun. He's accused of four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. But as reports, he could be convicted even without proof that he actually used steroids.

Three of the perjury counts accuse Bonds of lying about using steroids or human growth hormone (HGH). The fourth perjury count, however, merely accuses Bonds of lying about receiving an injection from his former trainer, Greg Anderson. So to convict Bonds, the prosecution must prove only (1) that Bonds received that injection from Anderson, and (2) that Bonds knowingly lied about receiving the injection. What the injection contained would be irrelevant.

Such is the way legal strategies work.

However, it seems likely most sports fans want to see the prosecution prove its case is a more straightforward manner. A recent poll by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) reported that most Americans see performance enhancing drugs as the most serious problem facing sports today. Yes, lying is unethical and Bonds should be responsible for his lies. But the poll finds that 75% of the respondents think using steroids or HGH violates the ethical standards of sport. And they're concerned what that says to children.

Athletes are role models, regardless of how they posture on the issue. And many Americans worry that if professional athletes use steroids or HGH, they're telling younger athletes that such use is acceptable.

"The [USADA] study also showed 41 percent of children believe if a well-known athlete breaks the rules it makes children think it is acceptable to break the rules to win," the Los Angeles Times reported.

If prosecutors in the Bonds case hope to send a counter message to children, a message that using steriods is unacceptable, let's hope they can prove their primary allegations -- that Bonds knowingly used performance enhancing drugs.

In the Wall Street Journal, one expert says the case is not really about steroids and HGH. "This is not a steroid case per se," said Richard Collins, a criminal-defense attorney specializing in cases involving athletes and performance-enhancing drugs, who has no involvement in this case. "This is the same as anyone who is accused of lying under oath."

But for most of us, this is a case about steroids, not lying. And after seven years of hearing about it, we want to see prosecutors to prove the steroid use. Only then will be truly believe that the legal system can catch up to cheaters, not just with fancy legal strategies but rather with hard facts that a jury will understand.


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