I’ve claimed a couple of times that Barry Bonds’ pariah status — compared to the relative hero worship afforded Lance Armstrong (in American, anyway) — has more than a little to do with the former’s amazing ability to alienate fans, journalists, and pretty much anyone not named Greg Anderson, more than any genuine outrage over his chemical experiments. The New York Times’ William Rhoden, however, prepares us for a verdict in Bonds’ perjury trial by comparing him to a far less contemporary figure — Jack Johnson.
Johnson lived a fast, unapologetic lifestyle. He incensed some blacks and enraged many whites by openly keeping company exclusively with white prostitutes and marrying at least one.
Johnson had violated the Mann Act in only its narrowest application — if that. He was prosecuted because powerful forces within the government felt that a black man who lived such a brazenly bodacious lifestyle was a threat to America’s racial order and had to be taught a lesson.
Almost 100 years later, we have the Bonds case.
The claim that he lied to a federal grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative steroids scandal is not the sole reason the government so vigorously prosecuted him on perjury charges. As his lawyer Allen Ruby told the jury that is deciding Bonds’s fate in federal court in San Francisco, part of the reason is that “he was Barry.”Bonds was being himself: a self-centered, spoiled brat who embraced entitlement wrought by fame, wealth and being born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was Bobby Bonds; his godfather is Willie Mays. As the most talented player of his generation, Bonds played by his own rules and forced the news media to abide by them as well.
Neither Bonds nor Johnson had a heightened social consciousness, but each possessed a ferocious sense of independence and entitlement and refused to be limited by social convention about how a champion was supposed to behave.