The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

In the mess that has been the BALCO steroids scandal, some justice has finally been served.

Instead of going to prison for longer than the man they busted, San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams are now free men. This comes after former BALCO attorney Troy Ellerman revealed himself as the source to Fainaru-Wada and Williams’ newspaper stories and revealing book, Game of Shadows.

Fainaru-Wade and Williams faced 18 months in prison, compared to Victor Conte, the BALCO ring-leader, who is in the midst of serving four months.

The reporters were headed to the slammer because they kept a promise. Granted, that promise involved illegally withholding sources, but nonetheless the kindergarten-taught ethics of keeping a promise were upheld.

The judicial system showed its ugly side when sentencing the reporters longer than Conte. While the American judicial system is the best one out there, it often lacks basic common sense.

It is flat-out wrong that Conte was initially handed a sentence less than a fourth of the length of the investigative reporters who revealed his illegal drug ring. The two men should have been up for Pulitzers, not prison. But the case was cut and dry: did the reporters withhold a source? Yes – they freely admitted so. The automatic result: a minimum sentence of 18 months.

Average people are left helpless because of the rules they themselves make. I doubt that everybody involved in the BALCO case truly believe that the reporters deserved more jail time than Conte.

Likewise, major league baseball is helpless in punishing players for steroid use. Everybody knows Barry Bonds used steroids. Hat sizes don’t just increase for no reason. Bodies don’t swell up like an allergic reaction. Pimples don’t appear on 40-year-old faces like they do on Bonds.

But barring some sort of unforeseen turn of events, he will go scot free. The same could be said about numerous baseball players around the country, including those implicated in Fainaru-Wada and Williams’ works (such as Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi).

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig can pout all he wants, but the fact remains that Bonds will likely own the most hallowed record in all of sports. Even though the thought of Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s record is so dreadful that I would rather be tortured by Jack Bauer than witness Bonds hitting No. 756, I must to face the stark reality of things – we all know that Bonds is a cheater, but we still can’t stop him.

The same principle that scored the Chronicle reporters absurd sentences will also doom MLB in the steroid scandal – we are stuck with the rules we have, and if we start bending them the whole system could fall apart.

Do we bend the rules and use simple common sense, do what we all know is right, to achieve justice for one particular case? Or do we just seek what is “fair,” declining to give certain cases special treatment while keeping painstakingly consistent?

We got lucky in the case of Fainaru-Wada and Williams, as Ellerman bailed out the reporters at the final hour. But will there be such a happy ending to the Bonds case? Will one of the most classy, humble and deserving athletes of all time be passed by a shameless cheater?

Now that Bonds has finally signed a contract, baseball is stuck with a problem it has been bracing against; Selig already declared that he will treat the home run record like any other record, meaning that the comish might not be in attendance for home runs 755 and 756.

Of course, Selig cannot, and will not, follow through with this bitter, emotion-driven stance. He must either take aggressive action against Bonds, declaring all-out war, or support the slugger. There can be no in between.

Hall of Fame voters have also taken the middle ground regarding admission to the Hall. Mark McGwire did not make the class in his first year of eligibility, and rightly so. But it seems to be the consensus among writers that McGwire will make the Hall eventually, probably sooner than later, and that the anti-doping statement was made by refusing to let him in first-ballot.

Some kind of statement that is: Cheat and we’ll make you wait a year or two to be inducted into baseball’s holiest of fraternities. Harsh.

Meanwhile, Pete Rose, who never actually cheated on anything, will never be inducted to the Hall. So let me get this straight – one man does something illegal that affects his on-field performance and is let in, the other does something illegal that has no effect whatsoever on his on-field performance and is banned for life. Go figure.

The reason for this senseless discrepancy is, once again, rules that we refuse to bend. Rose is not in the Hall because baseball’s rules state that if you gamble, you are banned from baseball. Fine. I can deal with that.

But when McGwire and many other known steroid users like him are let in, it will be because there is no tangible evidence to prove their guilt. A before and after picture doesn’t count. Nor do countless non-answers to the often-asked question: “Did you use performance-enhancing drugs?” For some reason, we can’t just use our heads to justify punishing somebody.

What I propose to solve this mess is a “common-sense clause.” Keep the laws and set punishments that are already in place. Keep the system fair. But when a case comes up that is so painfully unjust such as that of BALCO, Bonds or the Hall of Fame mess, human intervention is not only allowed, it is mandatory.

Hey, if the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series needs more of a human element, why not law enforcement?

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]