SAN JOSE, Calif.—Throughout his career, Barry Bonds, the most polarizing figure in sports, has invoked the most polarizing subject to explain his treatment by the public and press: racism.
For years, many agreed, while others argued that was a cop-out.
But after Bonds broke down last week in the face of injuries and allegations of steroid use, infidelity and financial violations, even those who agree he is subject to double standards say this time the slugger may have no one to blame for his troubles but himself.
“If you have a black man who’s conscious and independent and on the verge of breaking Babe Ruth’s record . . . that’s frightening,” said Leonard Moore, a Louisiana State University professor who teaches a course on the history of the African-American athlete. “If you speak out, if you don’t play to what white America wants, there will be persecution, scrutiny and unfair reporting.”
Just last month, at 703 homers, Bonds said the current scrutiny is partly due to his closing in on Ruth’s 714.
“If I was a long ways from Babe Ruth, this wouldn’t be the same,” Bonds said at a news conference on his arrival to spring training. “Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever, and Babe Ruth ain’t black. I’m black. Blacks, we go through a little more, and that’s the truth. Unfortunately, I said it. And I’m not a racist, but I live in the real world.”
Even in the current maelstrom, Giants fans continue to love Bonds, while questioning what he has to complain about.
“The typical African-American making a statement like that has really been affected by poverty and real racism, but he was not,” said Dominic Torreano of Santa Clara. “He’s the son of a pro ballplayer.”