Race should be injected into a conversation judiciously and sometimes, slowly. So before I explain how the coverage and reaction to Rick Ankiel's alleged misdeeds represent racial bias at its worst, I need to first disclose a few things.
I don't support Barry Bonds. I believe he took steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Nevertheless, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and any talk of placing asterisks next to his accomplishments is just flat-out silly.
Tom Gannam/AP Photo
Seems like some of the same people who took Barry Bonds to task are giving Rick Ankiel the benefit of the doubt.
A double standard the size of Bonds' head is being exercised with Ankiel, whose involvement with a human growth hormone scandal is being rationalized by some fans and members of the media.
I get that Bonds is far more talented and accomplished than Ankiel, and therefore creates far more media coverage. I also get that, to some degree, this is a popularity contest, since public perception is that Ankiel is considered more likable than Bonds. But what I don't get is the spin being put on Ankiel's alleged HGH use.
I don't get how people, with a straight face, can make Ankiel's use of HGH seem heroic, but treat Bonds like a war criminal. I've been as tough on Bonds as anyone, but at least I'm consistent. I don't support Bonds and certainly not what seems to me to be a fraudulent comeback by Ankiel.
But if you are one of those people who swears that race has nothing to do with the Bonds backlash, the treatment of Ankiel is an enormous setback to your argument.
Consider the evidence: Bonds was connected to BALCO. Ankiel is connected to Signature, a disreputable pharmacy under investigation for illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs to a bevy of professional athletes.
The New York Daily News reported Ankiel received eight shipments of HGH in 2004 -- a year before Major League Baseball put it on its banned substances list. This supposedly exonerates Ankiel from any wrongdoing. Bonds also took HGH and steroids before they were banned by MLB, but you can bet Ankiel won't be booed at ballparks or have syringes thrown at him.
If you can't believe Bonds didn't "knowingly" take performance-enhancing drugs, why would you ever believe Ankiel stopped taking a banned substance that MLB can't test for or that taking HGH had nothing to do with his miraculous major league comeback?
Ankiel's explanation is as shaky as Idaho Senator Larry Craig's, and certainly no better than what Bonds offered.
Ankiel claimed he was prescribed HGH to recover faster from his reconstructive elbow surgery.
Shockingly, I've heard sports talk radio hosts and others in the media sanction this excuse and they've even gone so far as to say Ankiel's use of HGH was necessary to maintain his health.
Tell me we're not naive enough to believe athletes are taking HGH just for the health benefits. They're not going to risk their reputation, careers and freedom for a beefed-up version of Neosporin. They take HGH because while it assists with injuries, it also makes them stronger and more potent, and therefore better at their sport.
If Ankiel's possession of HGH was above board, why did he have it shipped to him at a separate facility, which coincidentally also is under investigation for illegally supplying HGH and steroids?
Commissioner Bud Selig had no problem insinuating Bonds' guilt through passive-aggressive behavior during the home run chase, but he hasn't said a word about Ankiel, Troy Glaus or Jay Gibbons -- the other players who have been implicated in this HGH scandal. The commissioner just wants to "talk" to Ankiel, Glaus and Gibbons at some point about HGH. I'm sure Jason Giambi will serve the coffee.
If you struggle to understand why busloads of black people show up outside a courthouse with "Free Vick" signs and T-shirts, the free pass Ankiel has received should explain it.
It's not that African-Americans fail to recognize when someone black has done something wrong. It's that white athletes are usually given the benefit of the doubt when they're associated with trouble -- even when common sense and evidence dictate otherwise -- and African-Americans feel if they don't provide some semblance of fairness with their athletes, no one else will.
During the Vick saga I received numerous e-mails from white Americans who didn't understand why African-Americans couldn't just look at the evidence and see that Vick was guilty.
Yet many of them can't do the same when it comes to white athletes who look just as guilty as Bonds and Vick.
Roger Clemens' late-career spike and body changes are just as suspicious as Bonds, and Clemens' name surfaced in Jose Canseco's book. But any mention of that is considered sacrilege.
Pete Rose committed the worst sin a professional athlete can and some fans still want him back in baseball, and the Hall of Fame. But Bonds' records should be wiped clean?
Not a soul has called for Glaus, who the Daily News said received several shipments of testosterone and nandrolone, to return his World Series MVP. No one is saying the nine home runs and 29 RBIs Ankiel has hit since being called up from the minors last month shouldn't count. Some fans already have decided that deception and dishonesty shouldn't get in the way of their heart-warming story.
Of course, at some point, we're going to have to have an educated, honest, but painful discussion about performance-enhancing drugs. It's obvious we can't stop athletes from using them, and research suggests monitored usage of HGH and steroids among males of a certain age is a good thing. It could prevent future athletes from winding up like Earl Campbell, who needs a wheelchair to deal with severely arthritic knees. It might be time to either consider the outrageous plan of allowing controlled usage of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports leagues or adopting world anti-doping standards, which require stringent blood testing.
But now that golden boy Ankiel has been caught, something tells me people will be much more eager to talk sensibly about performance-enhancing drugs. They certainly weren't willing to talk about it when Bonds' king-sized head was on the chopping block.
Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at email@example.com.