Barry Bonds: Villain or Victim?

First some salient facts. 

  • I have been a Dodgers fan since I was a kid.  I bleed Dodger blue.
  • I have a real reverence for the game of baseball.
  • I believe that Barry Bonds used/uses steroids.
  • I'm disappointed that he's tainting the game.
  • I'd never been to Dodgers Stadium before.

So last Thursday night was a big deal for me.  My first Dodgers home game.  Accidentally, it was a big deal for baseball too.  Barry Bonds going for the home run that would tie Hank Aaron's record.  The game was sold out.

Before the game, I was adamant.  My biggest hope was that Bonds did not hit his home run during MY Dodgers game.  I didn't want it to taint the experience.

We had amazing seats.  One row off the field, half-way between left field and third base.  You couldn't ask for better.  It started the top of the 1st inning.  When Bonds came up to bat — the crowd booed and hissed.  Not very sportsmanlike, but I understood their sentiment.

1bonds_2 Bottom of the first, Bonds trots out to left field and the taunting got even worse.  It was relentless and stupid. And with every inning (and no doubt, with every beer) it got louder and more obnoxious.   Every time he made a catch, they screamed.  When he waited for the batter to swing, they jeered.  When he warmed up, they chanted obscenities.

And a very strange thing happened.  I started to feel sorry for Barry Bonds.  Did he bring it on himself?  Yes.  Do I think he cheated?  Yes.  Did I wish he wasn't breaking the record?  Yes.

But, did he deserve to be screamed at while he tried to do his job?  No.  Did he deserve the racial slurs?  No. Were the guys shouting at him insulting the game too?  Yes.

There's an important lesson in this for all of us.  It's easy to portray the competition as the villain.  But that's a very fine line to walk.   Comparisons are fine.  But taking a shot that really hits below the belt can quickly transform your competition from villain to victim.  Which turns you from hero to bully.  Bashing the competition is never going to serve you, long-term.

All of a sudden you can shift the balance and once you don the black hat, it's pretty tough to take it off.

A side note: Barry Bonds broke the record tonight. While I have more empathy for the situation he behaved himself into, I can't say I cheered as he waved to the crowd.  But I didn't boo either.

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12 comments on “Barry Bonds: Villain or Victim?

  1. Lewis Green says:

    Drew,

    Excellent post and a great metaphor for how we live our lives. Booing is as much a part of baseball as is the diamond. But we cross the line when we spew hateful comments at another human being.

    As for business attitudes, I often take my competitors our for coffee and get to know them better. We aren’t in business to defeat each other; we are in business to provide services to our customers. If we do it well, honestly and without greed, everyone wins.

    Thanks Drew. This is one of your best posts, I think.

  2. Lewis,

    I think you are an exceptional business person and not quite the norm. I’ll bet most business owners still view their competition suspiciously and with disdain.

    I think as we create marketing materials for our clients, we need to remember the thin line and help them not cross it.

    Drew

  3. Lori Magno says:

    Drew – Mr. Bonds was at Fenway Park in June (I wrote about it here: http://tinyurl.com/2g3ymq) and as I have come to expect at Fenway, the fans were quite vocal about his appearance. Contrast that with the arrival of Mr. Bonds’ teammate Dave Roberts – the former Red Sox player whose stolen base is credited for our “most recent” World Series win. The crowd stood and roared and cheered and roared some more to welcome him back – a player for the other team. I don’t mind a little razzing, but I really hate the mean-spirited abuse hurled at players (even those I consider cheaters) in front of kids. How will they behave differently if this is what they are exposed to?

    I believe there should be an asterisk in the record books – but that doesn’t entitle anyone to abuse.

  4. Cam Beck says:

    How we protest and fight wrongs is as important as fighting the wrongs themselves.

    “As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy.” – Christopher Dawson

  5. Mark True says:

    Drew:

    I don’t like Bonds because of who he is and how he got where he got, but he doesn’t deserve the hateful things people are saying to him. He deserves to be ignored…completely.

    You and I share the same point of view about competitors…there are many things to be learned from the competition, and there is plenty of business to go around. May the best brand win.

    -Mark

  6. Tracey Bien says:

    Life lesson about competition put very well. On the front page of my local newspaper (Northwest Herald of the Chicago Suburbs) there is a picture of Barry Bonds with his hands in the air. A huge “756” is the headline. The funny thing is, Bonds isn’t smiling. It is as if he knows he cheated. What the crowd was shouting was wrong but I think Bonds is used to ignoring and blocking out the crowd. His face is what puzzles me.

  7. I completely agree with you that Barry Bonds becoming the home run leader is not good. I think it’s an embarrasment to him and MLB, since it’s quite obvious he did not achieve his record without some artificial help.

    In terms of bashing your competition, I completely agree with you there, too, Drew. I follow the old saying, “Don’t burn any bridges,” and I think this applies in life, career, marketing and just about everywhere else.

  8. Lori,

    I agree 100%. Calling someone on the cheating is one thing. Proving yourself to be an equally bad sport and disrespecting the game is another.

    Bonds’ accomplishments will always be tarnished. But he’s still a human being and deserved to be treated with some modicum of respect.

    Drew

  9. Cam,

    I agree. It’s not just that we fight, but how we fight that determines our honor.

    And the people taunting Bonds were disrespecting the game as much as he has.

    Drew

  10. Mark,

    Actually, I have to say that for the most part, considering the magnitude of the record he broke, Bonds has been ignored.

    No huge fanfare, no parades. I like it. It’s sort of a classy way to send him the message that we know he cheated.

    I thought Hank Aaron was a class act through the whole thing. Quite the contrast to Mr. Bonds.

    Drew

  11. Tracey,

    I was thinking about this the other day. Imagine breaking one of baseball’s biggest and most prestigious records and never, ever getting to truly celebrate it because you know that everyone thinks you cheated.

    It would be almost worse than never breaking the record. His nose gets rubbed into his bad choices every single day. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    I dislike him immensely. I think he has shamed the game. But I sort of feel sorry for him too.

    Drew

  12. Susan,

    I think that many people learn the “don’t burn bridges” lesson about 20 years too late. It’s too bad that one isn’t ingrained when we’re born.

    Drew

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