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Telling the truth about PED users

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  January 12, 2010 12:57 PM

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If Mark McGwire were really being honest yesterday in his admission that he took steroids and human growth hormone during his career, including 1998, when he broke Roger Maris's single-season home run record, he would have said, "I took those substances, and I'd do it all all over again."

Of course contrition is a prerequisite for any carefully orchestrated, public relations-driven apology, so neither McGwire nor any other athlete admitting the use of steroids, HGH or any other performance-enhancer is ever going to say that. We don't want to hear that ugly truth -- and neither do they. So, sugar-coated repentance and lapses in judgment are the order of the day.

McGwire seems as sincere as any athlete who has come out and copped to using performance-enhancing drugs and the admission of his cheating is obviously painful for him. But don't think for one second that he'd be coming out to talk about his PED past if he were going to continue his life in seclusion instead of returning to baseball this year as the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. It wasn't a sudden crisis of conscience that compelled McGwire to come forward.

The only thing PED athletes really, truly regret is getting caught after the fact and having to throw themselves upon the mercy of the court of public opinion, a public that doesn't understand and can't comprehend what it's like to be a professional athlete. The rest is window dressing.

The feeling of true remorse means that if put in the same situation again you wouldn't make the same decision again. Can McGwire really, honestly say that?

If his timeline is to be believed, he briefly took steroids between the 1989 and 1990 seasons and started taking them again in 1993. In '93 and the strike-shortened 1994 season, McGwire played in a total of 74 games and hit a combined 18 home runs. Big Mac hit 345 of his career 583 home runs after 1994.

If he hadn't taken PEDs there wouldn't even be a debate today about whether McGwire, whose one skill as a player was clobbering baseballs, belongs in the Hall of Fame. It would be a moot point. The only way he would get into the Hall would be with a ticket.

The pressure to perform in professional sports is immense. It is a pressure that most of us in our society will never know. You don't reach the pinnacle of pro sports without being supremely talented and almost inveterately competitive. Athletes are always searching for an edge. They are also always living on the edge, pushing their bodies to the limit. The window of opportunity in a professional sports career is so brief that it's tempting for athletes to try to keep it ajar as long as they can, however they can.

Morality takes a backseat to immediacy.

There is also an element of insecurity and peer pressure when it comes to PEDs. According to the book "Game of Shadows," that is what happened to disgraced slugger Barry Bonds, who despite an overwhelming preponderance of evidence, has never admitted to using steroids or HGH. The book alleges that Bonds, jealous of the attention that McGwire and Sammy Sosa received during the Great Home Run Farce, er, Race, of '98, started using steroids following that season, a time in which he had already surpassed 400 career home runs and 400 career stolen bases.

It's not about judging the character of Bonds, McGwire, Alex Rodriguez or former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison. It's about realizing that they made a calculated choice to cheat. They found a way at the time to justify their decision to themselves, and now they're going to try to justify it to us.

You'll never meet a more stand-up, accountable, honest athlete than Harrison, but even he succumbed to the siren song of illegal substances.

The rationale that Harrison, who got a free pass in these parts, gave when he was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2007 season for using HGH was that it was to preserve his health.

"My purpose was never to gain a competitive edge," Harrison said in a statement the August night the NFL announced his suspension. "Rather, my use was solely for accelerating the healing process of injuries I sustained while playing football."

Yesterday, McGwire used a similar health defense as Harrison, and said he "wished I had never touched steroids." He called his decision "foolish" and a "mistake," and said he wished he had never played during the steroid era, which MLB commissioner Bud Selig has now inexplicably declared over.

(So, should we call this the HGH era, Bud, or do you really believe the game is completely clean?)

The man McGwire is tied with for eighth place on baseball's all-time home run register, Alex Rodriguez, said back in February, when he came clean about his PED use that he was "young, stupid and naive" when he began using in 2001.

Rodriguez was young, but we would be the stupid and naive ones if we believed that. A-Rod knew exactly what he was doing, and so did McGwire. There was nothing foolish or unintentional about Big Mac's decision to use steroids or HGH. He did it to make himself a better ballplayer and extend his career.

McGwire told Bob Costas of the MLB Network that his ability to hit home runs was a gift from God. That may be true, but his ability to hit 70 homers in '98, was a gift from modern chemistry. That's a truth that McGwire still isn't ready to confess.

We'll never hear the real truth from any of these enhanced athletes. No athlete will ever come out and say, "I took a performance-enhancing drug. It did exactly what I hoped it would do for me. I knew it was wrong, but I did it any way."

That would be a true steroid admission. 
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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