Waging war amid shadows: The saga of a Bonds jersey   

Updated: August 7, 2007, 9:12 AM ET

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I brain wrestled for over a year about buying a Barry Bonds jersey. Worried about what it would mean. What it might say.

But through thick and Nicole Richie, I had his back. As I should. So I went on a mission.

716. 717. 718.

Watching what Aaron went through when I was a kid, a spot in my soul resented what Babe Ruth and "America's game" stood for. Made me feel like the part of the Constitution that considered my grandfather three-fifths of a human being. We'll call it defiance.

I searched for a game-used jersey. Couldn't find one immediately. So I laid off it.

740. 741. 742.

As the number grew closer, my defiance increased. Not because of love for Bonds, but because of the way he was being treated. The picture painted of him was incomplete. It was of him on an island, alone, as if no other player faced the same accusations. As it turned out, Rafael Palmeiro joined the 3,000-hit club after he tested positive for steroids, but never saw or heard the same outcry (he was later suspended for 10 games). Watched Jason Giambi do everything except not admit to doing what the "Sultan of Steroids" was being accused of. Giambi never faced the same wrath. Heard Roger Clemens' name surfaced in the Jason Grimsley affidavit. It seemed unfair, even if Bonds was wrong.

Defiance grew. Was it the record he was chasing or was it because of who he was? The answer, I thought, could be found in the jersey. The search was back on.

Bonds hit 754. I finally bought a new jersey; had to -- an official Russell Authentic game jersey, size 44. The hate he was receiving had reached a point of insanity. The business of baseball had made this personal. "Behind every great fortune there is a crime." "Godfather" speak. Balzac. In a culture of wrongdoing in the game, Bonds was being singled out. So I dropped $250 in the name of defiance. The same defiance made us support O.J. even if we thought he was guilty and not abandon Al Sharpton when we knew he was wrong about Tawana.

Racist? No. Protective? No doubt. Overprotective? Probably. Wrong? Please. Defiance is part of the existence of who we are. It becomes part of our DNA in times like this, when one of our own seems to be rightfully accused but wrongly treated. It's a convoluted, twisted sense of purpose fueled by a sanctimonious and overtly self-righteous coverage of someone who may have committed a sin in the hell baseball had become. We are defiant in times like these because others are being made saints and bigger heroes at the expense of Bonds. Aaron has entered some sort of mythical sainthood. A-Rod, all of a sudden, is as pure as Rahsaan Patterson's voice or Don Cheadle's acting. We are defiant in times like these because even when we have advantages, the playing field is not level, not for us.

The jersey hung proud in my office last week. It was my middle finger to the baseball world and those outside of baseball who had made judgment and jury on Bonds being the devil. Eight days. Twenty-eight at-bats. It was getting hot out there. Hot as the false claim to or pretense of having admirable principles, beliefs or feelings. Hot as hypocrisy defined.

755.

While the devil may wear Prada, I flossed the white Giants No. 25 with pride. Not in Bonds, but in spite of him. Off the hanger, onto my back. Waiting for the worst to happen, waiting for fire and ice ... with beer to be thrown on me. My defiance my protection; Bonds, not God, my witness. I went to Wrigley for the Cubs-Mets game wearing the Bonds jersey.

I walked from bar to bar, spoke to all types of people -- black, white, Indian, Asian, men, women, parking attendants, bouncers at doors, cops directing traffic, bucket boys. Nothing. In the middle of a crucial National League series, not one person said anything to a man walking around in a PDA of Barry Bonds.

Finally ... "That's the sic'est jersey I've seen all day!" someone yelled at me. Said gentleman rolled up, offered to buy me a beer, just because of the jersey. I asked if he was from the Bay. "Hell no!" he replied. "I'm from right up the street. I just think [Bonds] is getting a raw deal and I don't even like him."

A guy named Steve from Lansing, Mich., said, "I'm not a huge Bonds fan either, but it's getting to the point that he's being treated so bad that you have to root for him."

Others came, spoke the same: "Selig is just as guilty as Bonds. If baseball is going to put an asterisk by Bonds' home run total, they should do the same to Selig's tenure as commissioner." ... "They have made Bonds' name synonymous with performance-enhancing drugs in sports, not just baseball, and with all of the people using, that's wrong." ... "I think [Bonds] is a jerk, but the way he's being treated is more unfair than what they are accusing him of doing."

As Steve further clarified, "How can they go after him the way they have while at the same time admitting that maybe 40 percent of the players in the game are doing or did the same thing they are claiming Bonds is guilty of doing?"

It was a fluke, I thought. Wrong place, wrong day. Maybe I had to get away from baseball to pacify my defiance. So the next day I got my Gary Sheffield mind right, put Bonds' jersey back on and went out to a mall in Oak Brook, Ill., about 40 miles outside of the city (white folks), then came back to a jazzfest on the South Side of the city (black folks). A case study. I knew what I was bound to get at one place and what I was going to get at the other. Again, I was ready for war. A war amidst a game of shadows.

Not one person said anything negative about the jersey -- no bricks or brimstone. I heard "cool jersey" every two hours or so. Black men, white men, gentiles and Jews, Catholics and protestants: Nothin'. Nada. Zilch. My defiance, deflated. I went back to Wrigley to watch Tom Glavine win No. 300. It was as if enough had been said and written. As if the original plan -- the "turn the world against Bonds" conspiracy that made me purchase the jersey in the first place -- was backfiring.

An elderly white lady stopped me as I left the game. "Why didn't he play today?" she asked. "Who?" I asked, forgetting. She pulled at the jersey: "Bonds." I told her they scratched him from the game, assured her that nothing funny was going on, nothing to stop him from finding forever in the next number. I knew what was going on in her mind, we had that much in Common. I got home and hung the jersey back up in the office. Lesson got. I bought the Bonds jersey out of rebellion and race, I wore it out of rebellion and retaliation. Got to experience neither. Nothin'. Nada. Zilch. I learned that just as the jersey seemed to make me feel Bonds, it allowed me to find out that the rest of the world is starting to feel for him. Defiance differed.

No longer mad at the baseball world, I pulled my middle finger down from the sky.

A young black man at a public library had on a Michael Vick jersey one day last week. I walked up to him, thinking about my Bonds jersey. Said, "You big for wearing that." He simply said, "Thanks." Then, almost as an afterthought, he said, "I think he's guilty as hell, but I still got his back."

We too had something in common. As we should.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Scoop here.


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