Commentary

Apparently, we can't handle the truth

We sure don't get much of it from the athletes and officials in the sports news, anyway

Updated: August 31, 2011, 2:15 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Jock-TalkDrew Litton for ESPN.comA word of advice: Don't believe everything you read from your favorite athletes and coaches.

Barry Bonds is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 16 in the federal case against him that grew out of the BALCO scandal in San Francisco.

Specifically, Bonds stands convicted (pending appeal) of obstruction of justice for giving a vague, nonresponsive answer to a question about whether he was ever given anything by trainer Greg Anderson that required a syringe to inject.

[+] EnlargeBarry Bonds
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJust answer the question, Barry. But remember: The question had nothing to do with your celebrity childhood.

Instead of answering that question, prosecutors argued, Bonds launched into a rambling dissertation that included the lines, "I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don't get into other people's business because of my father's situation, you see."

Well, no, actually. But without detracting from the seriousness of a federal conviction, Bonds' words rang strangely familiar with a few people I know, sports media types predominantly.

These people, who attempt to report about sports to the mass of fans who gobble up every tidbit, trade rumor, salary figure, point spread and fantasy-league update, are quite used to being, um, obstructed in the search for sporting truth and justice.

Or, failing that, the procurement of a moderately honest injury report.

Can you imagine the sports industry in the U.S. being called to account for every obfuscation, shading of language, phantom "injury," and I-said-it-but-I-didn't-mean-it-like-that clarification that comes down the pike on a daily basis? We'd have a backlog of cases so deep that Pete Rose couldn't talk his way around it.

What's happening to Bonds is no joke; he was sworn in to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth before a federal grand jury. The jurors at his trial earlier this year decided his answers amounted to something less than that, leading to the obstruction conviction. But you don't need a jury of your peers to deliver the verdict that your favorite players and coaches don't play it straight. It's obvious enough in your daily sports interview shows, websites and newspaper accounts.

[+] EnlargeBig XII logo
AP Photo/Tom GannamWas Texas A&M staying or going? Until Thursday, it was hard for the Big 12 to tell, based on what was coming out of College Station.

The NFL injury report is perhaps the most commonly fuddled list in all of sportdom. A few years ago, Jim Mora, then the coach in Atlanta, played a little game with Michael Vick's injury status ("questionable" at times, "probable" at others) all week before a game against New England, compelling the Patriots to prepare to face a player who in actuality had no chance of appearing in the game. The next week, Bill Belichick, never a man to be one-upped in situations like these, listed 15 of his players as "probable." That's maybe three times more than normal, and their "probable" status bore little relation to how much action they saw on Sunday.

But, then, a little obfuscation appears to have become a permanent part of the sports fabric. Otherwise, Jason Giambi never would've faced a rapt media audience at Yankee Stadium in 2005 to apologize repeatedly for ... something.

"I feel I let down the fans, I feel I let down the media, I feel I let down the Yankees -- and not only the Yankees, but my teammates," Giambi said. "I accept full responsibility for that, and I'm sorry."

It was a heartfelt statement from an obviously humbled Giambi. The only thing missing was the reason for the apology. Steroid use? A parking ticket? Giambi, for reasons that any lawyer could understand, never did say. He just apologized on, you know, general principle. Objection, your honor!

An example closer to the here and now? Why, certainly. Out in College Station, the good folks at Texas A&M played a fine game of hairsplitting this week as they attempted to control the order of announcements of their strongly considered move to the SEC from the Big 12.

A&M officials knocked down a report that they had filed a letter to the Big 12 saying they were leaving. Instead, said the officials, they had received a letter from the Big 12, possibly out of the big blue Texas sky, which outlined the procedure for leaving. Finally, on Thursday, they formally notified the conference of their intention to bolt.

[+] Enlargetejada
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMiguel Tejada was hurt. Or not. The lack of clarity is business as usual in sports these days.

There. Everybody feel better?

In San Francisco, meanwhile, Miguel Tejada found himself being asked to explain why he absolutely half-jogged to first base over the weekend after laying down a sacrifice bunt. Those who had seen Tejada shaking off the bunt sign from Giants third base coach Tim Flannery might've guessed that Miggy was unhappy with his assignment.

Instead of answering the question with words, Tejada merely pointed to his left leg, intimating that he was afraid of aggravating or causing an injury by going full tilt. But later in the interview, he campaigned for a starting spot in the lineup, saying, "I'm healthy. I work hard every day." And when asked if he was injured, he replied, "Nothing to worry about."

Just another day in the sports world, in other words. (In a development that might or might not be related -- it's hard to get to the truth, after all -- the Giants designated Tejada for assignment on Thursday.)

One of the most charming obfuscators I ever met was Marion Jones, who delivered her evasions with such tenacity and sincerity that it was, at times, easy to want to believe her. Every once in a while, Jones would get backed into a corner and be forced to flatly deny steroid use. (It eventually caught up with her on a federal level.) But more often than not, Marion answered the question by saying that she had never tested positive.

It was true as far as it went, which was nowhere near enough. But this is sports, which is to say, she certainly wasn't the first to stop somewhere shy of the truth.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Voodoo Wave," is in international release and available from Amazon.com. His work, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

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