McGwire the latest in line for smooth rehabilitation

January 14, 2010

BASEBALL/MCGWIREAmerica knows how to ‘do hype’ and the Stateside public lap up a good scandal but when it comes to cheating by use of performance enhancing drugs, the appetite for mass media coverage seems to vanish.

At the end of 2009, there wasn’t a website or newspaper in the States, whether celebrity gossip, high-brow politics or sports-obsessed that wasn’t delivering real-time updates on the infidelities of a golfer. America couldn’t get enough of the Tiger Woods story which, in the end, consisted of little more significant than a sorry list of rather mundane affairs.

When it comes to drug use, however, the response is far more restrained. Just a day after Mark McGwire, after years of avoiding questions, finally confessed to using steroids, including during 1998 when he broke the single season home-run record, already America was ‘moving on’.

The tone was set by Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig who within hours of McGwire’s ‘confession’ interview was welcoming the news. “I am pleased Mark McGwire has confronted his use of performance enhancing substances as a player … this statement of contrition I believe will make Mark’s re-entry to the game much smoother and easier,” he said.

McGwire’s confession is timed with his return to the game as hitting coach with his old team the St. Louis Cardinals. The New York Times is already sure that there won’t really be any problem with a confessed drugs cheat playing a role in the game next season.

“People consistently overestimate the impact of fallout from a steroid confession. The image of howling fans and nosy reporters has little basis in reality. It might happen in a bad movie or television drama, but it does not happen in real life,” wrote Tyler Kepner and he is right. At least when it comes to American sport.

Kepner notes that America’s drug cheats are often forgiven and reintegrated into baseball with remarkable ease.

“Three times in the last five years, a prominent Yankees player made a public apology for his role in the steroids scandal. In 2005, it was Jason Giambi. In 2008, it was Andy Pettitte. Last spring, it was Alex Rodriguez. They took back control of their storyline and went along with their lives.”

Rodriguez, who began Spring training talking about his use of PEDs, ended the season as World Series hero with the Yankees and was described by Sports Illustrated as “simply a good baseball story”. That’s taking control of your storyline.

Manny Ramirez of the LA Dodgers was banned for 50 games in May after testing positive but he was allowed to continue playing in minor league baseball during his ban, something inconceivable in European sport.

You could argue that after the Andre Agassi incident, the response to the McGwire confession was to be expected. Agassi confessed to failing a drugs test and then successfully lying to the authorities to trick them about the reasons for his positive test. In many places that was regarded as a scandal but in the U.S. Agassi was lauded by some  for showing bravery in facing up to his past mistakes.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that baseball is so relaxed about McGwire coming back into the game when there is an American footballer by the name of Jeremy Jarmon who tested positive in college football and received a one year ban from the college game but was allowed to move into the NFL and play for the Washington Redskins.

Jarmon says he never knowingly took any banned substance but what kind of message does it send when a player banned in college football is handed a lucrative deal in the professional league, effectively skipping the ban?

It is hard to know what needs to happen for American sport to take doping as seriously as it considers Tiger Woods’s private life.

PHOTO: St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGwire waves to the crowd after hitting home run number 65 against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, in this October 3, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Tim Parker/Files

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