Barry Bonds is the perfect steroid-era scapegoat

The headline over a column in another Bay Area newspaper insisted that baseball, not just Barry Bonds, is on trial in a San Francisco courtroom this week.

More accurately, it should be the sports media, because its writers and broadcasters who have made Bonds and steroids the central figures in the steroids-in-baseball story, while virtually ignoring the much more serious problem in the NFL.

Anybody who has been in an NFL locker room recently has seen examples of out-of-control steroid use.

Linebackers are bulking up to 270 pounds while turning in 40-yard dash times as fast as the slower wide receivers. That’s not a result of nature.

The NFL is just beginning to realize the damage being done to its players, including Super Bowl-winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had at least two concussions last season.

Steroids promote the growth of muscle, not only by themselves, but because athletes can work out longer. They don’t improve skills and they can’t make a mediocre hitter a good one, as former Giants outfielder Marvin Benard could attest.

Similarly, I doubt that quarterbacks like Rodgers, Peyton Mannng, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are taking steroids. There are many qualities a top quarterback needs: good touch on his passes, the ability to quickly sort out potential receivers, the knowledge of passing lanes. Taking steroids is of absolutely no help in any of those areas.

But for players who depend on strength and, to a lesser extent, speed, they are perfect. That describes linemen on both sides of the ball, linebackers and power running backs.

Because of steroids, football collisions have become more violent. It is the difference between two passenger cars colliding head-on at 40 mph and two SUVs colliding at 60 mph.

The NFL’s drug testing has caught a few violators, and punished them with four-game suspensions, but most players have been able to avoid even that.

Meanwhile, though, the sports media has virtually ignored it, while concentrating on baseball. Why? I see two primary reasons:

– There is no football player who rivals Bonds as a villain. Early in his Giants career, Bonds demonstrated that he didn’t care what writers and broadcasters wrote and said about him, the ultimate insult. I wrote then that they would find a way to punish him — and steroids became the weapon. Though steroid use is rampant in baseball, Bonds became the main story, day after day.

– Records. Writers and broadcasters hold baseball records in high regard. So did I — as a child. But when I got into the business, I gained some perspective. I understand that the numbers have to be judged by the times, that they mean something only in relationship to a player’s peers. But a disturbing number of writers and broadcasters don’t have that perspective.

So, Bonds is the villain, irresistible to the feds. No matter whether the administration is Republican or Democratic, prosecutors go after the big fish, thinking they’ll frighten lesser mortals. Doesn’t work, unless you think putting Martha Stewart under temporary house arrest curbed the excesses of Wall Street, but they keep trying.

Will writers and broadcasters admit their own culpability in this travesty? Don’t expect miracles.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on Email him at

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