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Goldstein on Bonds

I didn't realize that the Chronicle article I linked to on Tuesday was gated. My apologies. This part of Goldstein's essay sets the stage for the discussion I made in the earlier post:

Bonds's approach to his coming batting record has tied baseball fans and writers in knots. Ask most baseball fans whether they think he should be elected to the Hall of Fame, and get ready for a lot of passion, a whole lot less reason. I teach a course on sports history and try to help my students to understand this controversy in context — of baseball history and of race.

Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, has not figured out how or whether Major League Baseball will even mark Bonds's record-setting homer. Aaron (who faced horrifying racial hatred himself as he got close to Ruth's sacred 714 mark) has decided not to attend games in which Bonds could break his record. The longtime sportswriter and NPR commentator Frank Deford proposed ignoring the record and booing Bonds out of the game last year, when two San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporters alleged that Bonds had used steroids. This year Deford suggested his own "Emily Post solution" to the elephant in the room: Ignore the event by throwing a party to celebrate anything and everything else. The only stadium where Bonds doesn't get booed every time he walks to the plate is his home park in San Francisco.

It turns out, however, that all fans are not equal on the subject of Bonds. Sixty years after Jackie Robinson's Dodgers debut, black and white fans live in separate but unequal lands. Consider the results of a recent ESPN/ABC News poll indicating black fans are two-and-a-half times more likely than white fans (74 percent to 29 percent) to want Bonds to break Aaron's record; and three times as many white as black fans (60 percent to 18 percent) want Bonds to fall short. Looked at another way, three-quarters of black fans want Bonds to break the record, while three-fifths of white fans want him to fail.

How are we supposed to think about that phenomenon, which presents us with a true teaching moment in the history of sports and race? Let's look at the responses, and then at the history.

First, many white folks say race has nothing to do with how they look at a player. In the case of Bonds, his personal surliness makes it easier to shrug him off with a "Bonds is an asshole." (It's true — try Googling the phrase.) Among white fans, 76 percent think Bonds knowingly used steroids. It's all about him, nothing about the speaker.

Second, many black folks are reluctant to believe that Bonds knowingly used steroids. African-American fans, in fact, divide pretty evenly over whether they think Bonds used the juice: 37 percent to 36 percent, with 26 percent having no opinion. Could it be that they are responding to the willingness of the white establishment to believe that a haughty, self-absorbed black man took steroids? Or is it simply that African-Americans root for their own, cutting black ballplayers a little more slack than white people do?

No, I think the answer lies deeper in the tangled, often contradictory history of African-Americans in professional sports.

How to deal with Bonds and the record may or may not be a race issue. But as Goldstein states elsewhere in his essay, Bonds is a "race man," so he himself makes it so. Regardless, my own view is much closer to Goldstein's -- who acknowedges the likelihood of perjury, the unpleasant character, and the open hostility of the man. I think we can all agree that understanding the complete picture requires, at least, an understanding of where Bonds is coming from. Goldstein and Rhoden provide some of the details.