…. Two sides

As in, there are two sides to every story. In this 2004 article, (originally published in Playboy) Jonathan Littman details the investigation into Barry Bonds and BALCO, and more importantly, how Jeff Novitsky, an IRS agent, decided that he wanted to get Bonds, because of his arrogance, because he was such an asshole. The article also details many of the inconsistencies in the investigation, including the government’s reluctance to indict or even investigate further countless professional athletes (mostly white athletes); while focusing all of their efforts on getting Bonds.

Today, Littman wants us to know that he stands by his original piece, and why:

I stick by my May 2004 Playboy story, Gunning for the Big Guy, which made no bones about what this was about from the beginning – nabbing Barry Bonds for steroid use and cheating at a professional sport. Bonds was always the focal point. Today these three cops stand firm. Forget about steroids. The case against Barry Bonds will likely be won or lost on the deeds, words and integrity of a lone federal agent.

Not a daring DEA drug agent.

Not a solid FBI man with dozens of major busts on his resume.

The protagonist here is the unlikely Jeff Novitzky, an IRS criminal investigator who for most of his career played a back-up role to veterans at other federal agencies.

The final chapter in BALCO will be less about drugs or Bonds’ testimony about what he may have ingested, but about whether one of the greatest black athletes in history was set up. For the last few years, the media has painted Novitzky a hero, the “dogged” investigator in the style of Eliot Ness. In the wake of the indictment they are singing his praises anew. But the prosecution may turn on whether Novitzky’s desire to topple Bonds led him to commit the classic rookie blunder—stepping on his fellow cops and the law. For no matter who was implicated in the case, Bonds was always the big fish.

Was this entrapment? As Novitzky relentlessly pursued Bonds, did baseball’s white players get a pass while the black star was dealt a bait and switch?

The media frenzy surrounding the Bonds indictment has missed a key fact. The federal prosecutor in San Francisco appears to have failed in his primary goal—to build an iron clad steroids case against the legendary player. Nor did the extreme measure of sending Bonds’ trainer to jail succeed in getting him to roll against his former employer. Anderson kept silent and, with the filing of the indictment, by law had to be released.

The government is playing the only card it has left, filing a perjury indictment largely based on circumstantial evidence dating from a four-year-old search of the BALCO labs.

This was not the original plan.

Misuse of power, misappropriation of millions of dollars, unfairly targeting one player while ignoring the misdeeds of countless others; you name it, it’s happening right in front of you while the mainstream media write article after article, editorial after editorial, all designed to let us know what an asshole Bonds is, what a great day it is that the government can spend all of this time and money to get a player who nobody likes.

It’s a disgrace, and it’s a terrifying look at what can happen when personal gain collides with government service.

UPDATE: The Starting Five has not one, but two articles that illuminate a third side of the issue, the one which shows how the owners and presidents and general managers and sportswriters have profited from the steroid scandal, and how they’ve been able to hide all of it by focusing on destroying Bonds:

…. The federal government NEVER focused on owners. They never focused on the power brokers who set the table for steroid use in the game as a means to enrich themselves. They never focused on the bottom line of this $6 billion industry. The federal government – and your media – focused on the players, black, white and Afro/Euro/Indio-Latin. Owners were not called to account for what was deemed to be the greatest transgression in the history of sports. And some day, players will understand that there is an enormous difference between player rich and owner rich. Owners are addressed as Mr. Angelos or Mr. Turner or Mr. Selig. Players are still children in a man’s world. They are addressed by their nicknames (”A-Rod”, “Rocket”, etc.) or their first names with all the derision and familiarity of a john slapping his favorite whore on the ass.

Chris Rock put it best: “Shaq is rich. The white man who signs his checks is wealthy. If Bill Gates woke up this morning with Oprah’s money, he’d jump outta the fuckin’ window!”

Hat tip to hal for the Starting Five link. ;-)

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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