Urban: Separate the player from the man

If you’re looking for a role model, you can’t stand Barry Bonds. If you’re simply a fan of between-the-lines greatness, you love him.

Fortunately, enough of the people at sold-out Petco Park on Saturday night have already come to grips with the notion that there really aren’t — and shouldn’t be — any genuine role models in sports anymore.

Sure, there are athletes who don’t appear to have any skeletons in their closets, who seem to be worthy of our respect and admiration. Tom Brady, for instance. Tiger Woods. Kevin Garnett.

But looking at it from the devil’s advocate point of view, maybe these guys are just better at hiding their skeletons. Remember, Mike Vick was a role model to many — not to mention the face of the new NFL — before dog skeletons were found on his property.

It’s sad, but sports fans these days, if they want to stay sports fans for long, have no choice but to separate the person from the athlete and just appreciate what happens on the field, court, ice, whatever.

That’s what most of the fans in San Diego did when they stood and applauded for Bonds when he tied Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. Sure, there were boos. Some people just love to hate. But the majority in attendance understood that they were witnesses to history, to greatness, and they loved it. Unconditionally.

That’s what the fans in San Francisco did Tuesday when Bonds broke the record, too. They love Bonds unconditionally every time he steps on the field, and as a result, they get criticized nationally for being, among other things, naïve, blind and oblivious to the alleged transgressions that make Bonds such a polarizing figure everywhere else in the country.

Such criticism couldn’t be further off the mark.

For one thing, Bonds is a polarizing figure in San Francisco, too. If anything, the fans in San Francisco are MORE aware of the allegations against Bonds and the mountain of evidence supporting some of them. They’re beat over the head with it virtually every day. They can’t get away from it.

But they’re a savvy lot. They understand that it’s OK to appreciate the performance no matter what you think of the performer. It’s OK to cheer Bonds’ baseball accomplishments even if you can’t stand the man, just as it’s OK tostill consider “Braveheart” a brilliant movie now that you know what a pill Mel Gibson is.

Fans pay to see Bonds because they want to be entertained, and far more often than not, he’s delivered. Now, he’s delivered on the grandest level of the game, and if you can’t appreciate that because Bonds isn’t a role model, you’re the one with your head in the sand.

Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com. He also hosts the weekend edition of “Sportsphone 680” on KNBR (680 AM).


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