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Suspicious Minds: on Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong and George Bush

©Marc Leeds

This is a column about sports. Or is it politics. It could be about the wonders of medical
science or just about our willingness to overcome our sense of wonder. But above all, this
is about Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and George Bush.

Let’s see if we have this straight. Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong never failed a drug
test. The San Francisco Chronicle reporters who claim to have the goods on Bonds and
his alleged steroid use can only retell the stories of those who have implicated themselves
in baseball’s steroid abuse scandal. They have no explanation for Bonds’s ability to pass
all those drug tests.

Nevertheless, many believe that the sanctity of America’s pastime requires Commissioner
Bud Selig suspend Bonds from playing this season to protect the records of Babe Ruth
and Hank Aaron. A suspension would be the equivalent of a death sentence on Bonds’s
career, based on nothing more than well-written suspicion. There is the matter of Barry’s
terrific musculature, but that is beside the point.

The real point is that the allegations against Bonds cover a time period prior to baseball
having any rules governing steroid use. Even if Bonds used steroids, and there are still
those pesky tests he passed, he didn’t break any baseball rules. He may have broken U.S.
law, but it is not Major League Baseball’s business to act as the government’s surrogate
and impose penalties that keep a man from pursuing his chosen profession.

But he is Barry Bonds. The press hates him, fans are at best split in their opinions about
him, and he shows little interest in voluntarily surrendering his Fifth Amendment rights
and coming clean—whatever the story may be. But they are his rights.

Then there is the case of Lance Armstrong. Everybody loves him. Except the French. But
that just adds to his badge of honor because America’s unofficial position is that we hate
the French.

Armstrong won seven consecutive Tours de France bicycle races, all after enduring
surgery and grueling chemotherapy treatments to defeat testicular cancer. His daily menu,
similar to those of most world-class athletes, is largely composed of multisyllabic
nutritional supplements.

The French have tested Armstrong a gazillion times, no doubt due to the rules of their
beloved race but probably moreso because they are incredulous that a testicular cancer
survivor, a guy who sits on a rock-hard splinter of a bicycle seat, can so regularly blow
away the field. They haven’t said so, but the French probably feel Armstrong enjoyed an
unfair advantage by having one testicle removed. He’s not exactly straddling the seat they
way his competitors do.

The point is that Lance never failed those drug tests. Armstrong has his detractors who
claim to have assisted him with illegal doping, but those pesky tests still say otherwise.
Either a guy who rides a bicycle all day is smart enough to hire evil genius chemists to
outwit an entire country, a country that is a member of the exclusive nuclear club, or else
he beat the tests because he didn’t cheat.

That brings us to George Bush. He was under the impression that Iraq was bulking-up on
weapons of mass destruction. All the tests the United Nations ran proved otherwise. He
took us to war without proof. He also believed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
when he said that our military could win with reduced forces because our technological
superiority made us more nimble yet more forceful than in years gone by. Grateful Iraqis
offering tea and flowers would quickly greet our troops. Didn’t happen.

If George Bush were a French bicycling official, his suspicions may have thwarted a
well-tested Lance Armstrong from setting a record that few believe will ever be beaten or

If George Bush were commissioner of baseball, his suspicions would probably demand
that he suspend a well-tested Barry Bonds from achieving home run immortality.

But Bush’s suspicions have proven worthless and self-defeating. He circumvented

process (the United Nations’ inspection committee looking for WMD in Iraq; the U.S.
Constitution concerning warrantless wiretaps against the nation’s citizens, secret torture
prisons around the world, and bogus military tribunals) and could be censured by the
senate if it shows any spine and respect for the nation’s laws.

In retrospect, Bush’s suspicions were unfounded but he was still free to take action. There
are plenty of suspicions in Florida and Ohio that Bush actually lost his two presidential
elections. Interestingly, there is no chance of taking action on those suspicions.
Apparently, not all suspicions are created equal.

For journalists and conspiracy theorists of all political stripes, a suspicion is a terrible
thing to waste. Nevertheless, leave Barry alone. For the moment, the proof is on his side
—whatever his neck size may be. And leave Lance alone. He’s retired from cycling and
proved he’s twice as good as his competitors with just half the equipment.

Bush, well, he’s another story. His proven falsehoods distracted the nation’s attention
from more vital threats and flaunted the Constitution. Still, there is no recourse for Bush’s

Sports records exist as single line entries in record books and now databases, once in a
while with asterisks. Historical records are written with extensive footnotes and
documentation, nuanced by partisans. In the end, sports legacies harm no one. The same
cannot be said for political legacies.

Copyright (c) 2006 Marc Leeds. All rights reserved.