Rethinking the asterisk

CW: Domestic Violence

    Barry Bonds’s Hall of Fame eligibility is set to expire in 2022. To those unfamiliar with the sport of baseball, Barry Bonds is arguably the greatest player to have ever lived. He holds the record for the highest single season on-base percentage (the percentage of plate appearances that do not end in an out). 

    He holds the record for the most home runs hit in a single season with 73 (nine short of a home run every other game). However, most incredibly, he is known for being the career leader in home runs hit, with 762. 

    Despite these towering achievements within the sport, many fans and sportswriters reject the notion that he is one of the greatest of all time and believe that all his achievements should be marked with an asterisk for one simple reason: he corked his bat with anabolic steroids.

    Most of the cases against his candidacy have been based on his use of performance enhancing drugs. I see things differently. Baseball is a game. If I am watching a game, am I going to complain that people are doing everything in their power to make sure that it is as entertaining as possible? That’s ridiculous. 

    Does that mean I’m in favor of the use of anabolic steroids as a means of performance enhancing? No! 

    According to the National Institutes of Health there are a myriad of reasons that steroid abuse should be avoided. Lance Armstrong is an excellent example of the literal life-threatening consequences that Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) pose. It is precisely because of these risks that I feel as though it should not bar you from the Hall of Fame discussion, especially once you consider the fact that the same batters who used steroids were facing pitchers who used steroids. 

    Athletes who utilize steroids are literally risking their lives to perform these inhuman feats, whether they are fully aware of the consequences or not. I am more horrified that the MLB did not step in sooner to try to prevent its players from killing themselves for the love of the game. 

    I think it is absurd that Barry Bonds should be refused entry into Cooperstown for his steroid use.

    I think the reasoning behind marking Bonds’s record with an asterisk is childish. As I said earlier, I have no problem with people who use PEDs. In fact, anabolic steroids have genuine medical uses. Imagine being a professional athlete whose doctor prescribes you anabolic steroids to recover from anemia. 

    The next time it is your turn to pee in a cup, you get a positive test for performance enhancing drugs. I do not know if there is a process through which you can get excused for that, but there will be members of the media and large contingents of baseball fans who will never forgive you for doing what your doctor told you to do. All your accomplishments will be branded with an asterisk.

    While procuring anabolic steroids without a doctor’s note is a criminal offence, it pales in comparison to the actual asterisk that I cannot help but see when I read the name Barry Bonds. Some time ago, I read an article by Britni de la Cretaz for The Hardball Times that discusses Barry Bonds the abuser. 

    Not the drug abuser. The domestic abuser. Ironically, it can be tempting to chalk his domestic abuse up to roid rage. But that doesn’t hold up. According to ESPN, his steroid timeline starts at the earliest in 1998. His timeline of domestic abuse starts nine years prior to his first instance of PED abuse. Barry Bonds was a domestic abuser, and that should exclude him from inclusion into the Hall of Fame. 

    Upsettingly, there is a historical precedent that states otherwise. While allegations of Kirby Puckett’s domestic abuse only came to light after his induction in 2002, Bobby Cox was arrested for assault against his wife in 1995, a full 19 years before his induction.

    In 1995, during the divorce hearings of his first marriage, Barry Bonds admitted to having kicked his wife, Sun Bonds, while she was pregnant. Sun’s lawyer referred to her as having battered woman syndrome, which is what we used to call PTSD rooted in domestic abuse. 

    She is the first woman to have experienced Bonds’s abuse that we know of. The second was his long-term girlfriend, Kimberly Bell. They started seeing each other around the time that the hearings had started in 1994. 

I cannot imagine how these women feel when the discourse surrounding Bonds’s legacy omits their pain. 

    I cannot believe I looked up to this man. I remember vehemently defending his honor against the allegations of steroid use that other kids brought up at summer camp, repeating the talking points of him not knowing any better, that it was probably an honest mistake, when in actuality, I was the one making the honest mistake of defending a domestic abuser for things that he had done that pale in comparison to his worst sins.

    In her article, Britni de la Critez concludes that not including him in the Hall of Fame does a disservice to his incredible contributions to the sport in terms of his achievements on the field. I feel as though she has the right to that opinion, especially considering that she is a domestic abuse counselor. 

    However, in the spirit of 2020, I propose that we demand that actions have consequences. When survivors of abuse are being asked to pick between the lesser of two abusers in the upcoming general election, is it too much to ask that sports can be an escape from the harshness of reality?