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Lance Williams on Barry Bonds
Posted on Dec 7, 2007
By James Harris
Harris: So you’re talking about Marion Jones, Trevor Graham, Tammy Thomas and Barry Bonds. Is that it?
Williams: Plus athletes who were subpoenaed before the grand jury or who were interviewed by federal agents. Most of them told the truth and they’ve gone on with their lives, one way or the other.
Harris: So they only have gone after the four. I find that problematic, though, Lance, that other people were doing this, that they were using steroids, but because these four lied, they seem to be facing a higher consequence.
Williams: I don’t understand how the federal government prosecuted this case from the get-go. To me the whole drug conspiracy at BALCO really was for the benefit of the millionaire athletes to immunize them from prosecution and to actually protect their “privacy.” The government sealed all the files regarding the drug use by most of the athletes. I just didn’t understand why they were doing it the way they were doing it. But then I didn’t understand why they were so hot to put me in prison, either.
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Williams: Commissioner Selig is constrained by the competing forces in baseball. The union is strong, the owners are powerful and willful, and he doesn’t have a free hand. Having said that, though, he’s also an extremely reactive guy. He’s never really tried to get out in front of this problem, which has been building for years. The current strategy, which actually was developed after our book came out, was to hire a former U.S. senator, George Mitchell, to do an investigation of steroid use in the sport. Now that’s been going on since March of 2006. Some sort of report is supposed to be released later this year. And the real interesting thing is what baseball will do with the information, assuming it’s a credible report. If it is, there’s going to be lots of athletes named in it, lots of ballplayers named in it, and it really could shake the game up. And I just don’t know what they’re going to do as a follow-up.
Harris: Has there been a scandal in baseball of this magnitude since the Black Sox scandal in the early 20th century?
Williams: I don’t think so. There’ve been incidents that were troubling, but I think if Mitchell does a good report, you’re going to find out that lots and lots of players for a period of 10 years were using performance-enhancing drugs, that the game was all distorted as a result, the players exposing themselves to major health risks in an effort to get these big contracts and hit the long ball and so forth, and the game’s leadership turning a blind eye to it. It’s not a pretty picture. It seems to me that they need to get a handle on the problem to restore the game. You don’t want it to go the way of wrestling where in 20 years they’ll have a fan base who’s still interested in baseball and the rest will be saying, “Why do you care about that? Everyone knows it’s crooked.”
Harris: Exactly. You make the wrestling comparison. And there were drugs involved there in the middle ‘80s and the ...
Williams: Yeah, sure.
Harris: ... has come under fire for that as well. Lance, let me play devil’s advocate here, because a few columns around the country take you to task and they say, “You know what? You have uncovered business that should not be uncovered. Everybody—from Mark McGwire to Sammy Sosa, to ... you pick a guy that we all love—was probably doping.” What do you say to those people that say that you ruined baseball?
Williams: I think baseball runs the risk of ruining itself by allowing the use of illegal, powerful, harmful drugs and really forcing these young athletes to use them if they want to make the team. It’s just not a good situation. It’s not the sport that’s being presented to the fans. Baseball says it’s a clean game. Well, it needs to clean itself up, and I think the stories, to the extent that they are an agent for making that happen, I’m happy to be a part of it. Lots of fans are uncomfortable with the idea of the home run record being held by a guy who’s using banned drugs, and they’re going to be uncomfortable with the results of the Mitchell report, too. And I think that discomfort reflects what the fans really want. They might want to see the long ball and might they want to see the record-breaking performances, but they want to believe that they’re being done on the natural. Baseball has that obligation to try to make that happen if it can.
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