“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Back in the 1919 baseball World Series players on the losing Chicago White Sox team were accused of throwing the game and “fixing” the outcome so that the Cincinnati Reds would win. Among the players accused was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was later said to have admitted taking part in the conspiracy. (He was suspended from Major League Baseball the following season and the incident mars an otherwise admirable lifetime record in baseball.)
This may be myth or factual, but media reports at the time said that Jackson testified before a grand jury in 1920 and admitted taking part but in a trial was acquitted with the other accused players. Leaving the court house, a large group of youngsters awaited…one approached Joe Jackson – obviously a fan – and supposedly asked if the accusations were true. (News reports said he asked, “It ain’t true, is it, Joe?” And Jackson answered in the affirmative and then walked by.)
Over time this became a favorite of sports writers who would pose the question – “Say it ain’t so, Joe” – whenever a star player was accused in this scandal or that.
Now we know it is true – for one baseball star who, over the years was the idol of many youngsters. After years of denying the rumors of charges that he took steroids, Mark McGwire finally stepped forward to admit that he took steroids in the years that he was a major leaguer. “I wanted to tell the truth,” he said. “I decided to take the hit. I’ve been taking hits for five years and it doesn’t feel good…”
Appearing before Congress, Mark McGwire denied taking steroids. He said the same thing on CBS “60 Minutes.” He has said he didn’t take the drugs in answer to media inquiries. Now that he is returning to baseball, it was time to come clean.
There will always be **** (asterisks) in people’s minds and recollections if not in official records about the fantastic records that player McGwire set, including the shattering of New YorkYankee star Roger Maris’s record for home runs in a single season. We learned that McGwire has apologized to Roger’s widow as part of his taking responsibility for his actions.
Among the personal costs to Mark McGwire: He will most likely never receive the votes to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are other costs, for sure, including the self-inflicted wounds on his own fame and reputation.
Who knows what other damage has been inflicted on countless young athletes…those who hungered after the same kind of fame and recognition that Mark McGwire achieved…and who may have followed his example to take steroids to boost performance? If the current chapter in the Mark McGwire story conveys the importance of personal accountability to aspiring young players in all sports, centered on the painful confession and owning up to responsibility that will be a huge contribution to amateur and professional sports. It’s painful for all to watch, but better late than never (the confession and acceptance of responsibility).
In the same newspaper I read all about the tearful confession, there was a disturbing story of a young (high school) wrestler hospitalized after a near-fatal overdose of an unknown drug. We don’t know yet what caused his collapse…and it’s not fair to speculate. But when we hear of an athlete falling ill…don’t we wonder…and remember the Mark McGwire story?
Drug use among our young people is now an epidemic. In addition to the coaching and training in the art of our competitive sports, it is absolutely imperative that the adults in charge stress personal accountability and that young athletes have to avoid the use of drugs to enhance performance. (As well as drugs for recreation and escape from the pressures of everyday life.)
For the next chapter in the Mark McGwire story: How about the role of special youth advisor…criss-crossing the country with his new team, visiting high schools, even junior highs, to spread the message: Don’t do drugs – look at what happened to me. It can happen to you. The medals and awards and glory are not worth it in the end.
Redemption, forgiveness, overcoming adversity. It used to be the American Way. It can be again … if we all try. Your thoughts?