Column: The Slow Wheels of Justice

From A-Rod to Ann Arbor hockey, sometimes justice is served
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The gears of justice grind slowly, but they do grind, and sometimes they actually get their man – or woman, as the case may be.

The sports world saw its share of slow-moving justice this week, from the global to the local.

New York Yankees’ third basemen Alex Rodriguez has already admitted he used steroids, but only after his tests were leaked to the press. He’s still playing, and is now one just home run away from hitting 600. Twenty years ago this would have been big news – but since suspected steroid users Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds crossed that threshold, the luster is lost. About half of those polled said they simply don’t care – and they polled New Yorkers. If they don’t care, why should we?

Rodriguez cheated himself out of his own celebration. Seems about right to me.

Overseas, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong dropped from the leader board for the first time in years. He’s long been suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, too, but he’s never failed a drug test. Still, the circumstantial evidence is mounting. Greg Lemond, the first American to win the Tour in 1986, publicly wondered years ago why Armstrong had worked with a dirty doctor in Italy known to traffic in steroids. But the blowback hit not Armstrong but Lemond, who felt compelled to apologize for his comments.

In 2006, Floyd Landis pulled off one of the greatest finishes in Tour de France history, then tested positive for drugs. He denied it, he denied it and he denied it – until this spring, when he ‘fessed up. But, he said, Armstrong took them too.

It was a gutless act from a gutless man, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t telling the truth – for once. Armstrong brushed it off, and given Landis’s record for integrity, it wasn’t hard to do. But it seems the noose is slowly tightening, and we’ve not heard the end of this story.

We’re also missing the story in golf. Yes, Tiger Woods’ love life made great tabloid fodder, and has cost him millions in endorsements and probably his marriage – but not his career. No, the real story, the one few seem to be pursuing, centers on his mysterious Canadian doctor. Dr. Tony Galea has been linked to a number of drug-using athletes, and is currently facing charges. Woods says he’s never taken any performance-enhancing drugs, but if so, why would you ever call a doctor like Galea? Best case scenario: it was an extremely stupid decision.

Golf is the only sport where you’re expected to call penalties on yourself, even when no one’s watching. So if Woods is found guilty, he should not expect his sport to be very forgiving. He will be stripped of every tournament he has ever won. Mark my words: Watch this one carefully.

And now to our own backyard.

You might recall Kimberly Knight, the woman who appeared in court a year ago to face charges she’d embezzled almost a million dollars from the kids who play in the Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey Association. Judge Melinda Morris gave her a shockingly light suspended sentence, requiring Knight to return only a small fraction of the money, with no jail time.

Well, Knight showed her first collision with the law was no fluke when she failed to produce court-ordered tax records, and faced unrelated fraud charges. Morris gave her a minimum two-year sentence. Though I’d still like to see Knight forced to give far more of the stolen money back to the kids who need it, it was good to see a little accountability, at least.

These examples remind me of a quote from Winston Churchill. When he was asked about democracy – including our ideas of justice – he said, “It’s the worst system in the world – except for all the others.”

So it was nice to see the worst system in the world have a pretty good week.

About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among others. His most recent book is “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. Bacon teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism; and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009. This commentary originally aired on Michigan Radio.