Barry Bonds, the outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, the record holder for most career home runs in professional baseball, has been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Finally.
As everyone watched Bonds approach Hank Aaron’s record number of home runs, many said his record should have an asterisk next to it. The record wasn’t broken fairly, they said. But until now, Barry Bonds taking steroids or human-growth hormones was just a rumor. Indeed, Bonds appeared before the United States Congress and testified he had never taken any such thing. So, till now, Bonds supporters could rightly say: There is no proof of cheating. Now Bonds supporters will have to wait for a federal jury to decide.
Bonds disdainful attitude made him a favorite for fans (and the media) to hate. He acted special to everyone, his fellow players included. Bonds dared any and all to take him on. It is the federal government which has finally done so. Fans questioned how the 36-year old Bonds went in the year 2001 from 49 home runs to 73 home runs the following year. Bonds was an excellent batter before that, but the change was dramatic.
What business does the federal government have in this baseball business? So what if professional athletes are cheating? Whether the government has a legitimate involvement in this aspect of the “drug” business, Bonds is not accused by the federal grand jury of taking illegal drugs. Bonds is accused of lying to Congress under oath: Perjury and Obstruction of Justice.
Once again, the cover up is what gets people in trouble. The Watergate scandal brought the resignation of President Nixon, but Nixon was never accused or suspected of knowing about the original burglary of offices that started the whole thing. Nixon was proven to have covered up the burglary. He lied and deceived Congress and the American people about the burglary and his efforts to cover it up. That was enough.
President Bill Clinton got into similar problems in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It wasn’t just the issue of his moral behavior but whether Clinton committed perjury or lied to the American in covering up the scandal.
So now Barry Bonds, who did not have to testify before Congress, chose to do so. Why did Barry Bonds’ lawyer allow Bonds to do that? To decline to testify may have looked bad to the public. To take the Fifth Amendment makes a person “look guilty” to the public. So fear of making a bad impression on the public drives people to abandon their Constitutional rights to stick their heads in the noose.
This is the same impulse that drives people every day in America to abandon their Constitutional rights whenever a police officer asks them to give up their rights to question them or search their vehicles. Rather than say, “No. I would like to keep my Constitutional rights. I would like a lawyer present with me before I make any statements and you need to get a search warrant to search my private property”, these people say, “Sure. I hate to look guilty to you, officer, so you can have my Constitutional rights and I will start answering your questions and search my vehicle as much as you like. Go ahead. Question away. Ransack away. Don’t let my right to remain silent or my right to privacy under the United States Constitution interfere with anything you may have planned today.”
The framers of our United States Constitution gave us the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment and the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment. But if we give away those rights, then we have only ourselves to blame. Regardless what impression it might make on observers, regardless that some may say “That makes you look guilty”, you must declare your rights to keep the benefit of them. Unlike Barry Bonds, who was too sure he could out-fox the federal government, too sure he was smarter than everyone else.
Of course, Bonds may well ultimately be found not guilty by the jury in his trial, but he could have avoided even being charged if he had just chosen not to volunteer to testify before Congress.