Monday, January 11, 2010

McGwire Confession Should Make Us Think.

Mark McGwire never lied about his steriod use. He just refused to say, until today.

He is not a liar.

He is, however, a cheater.

When McGwire took performance-enhancing drugs, he knew or should have known that their use was forbidden by Major League Baseball. He cheated, period.

In his confession, McGwire said he took the drugs on and off. Sometimes he was better than usual when he took them, sometimes he wasn't. Likewise, sometimes he was better than usual when he didn't take them.

He insists they were not responsible for his record-breaking 1998 season. Denial? Maybe. He has to deal with that himself. For Hall of Fame purposes, it doesn't matter. He cheated. That is the salient fact.

It doesn't matter if his cheating was successful.

This tends not to be what people are talking about, although some athletes have pointed out that performance-enhancing drugs are always available and their use is not always discouraged by coaches and trainers. People should talk about that.

We should also talk about, and think about, cheating generally, in sports and other realms. Some rule violations are treated as 'part of the game.' In the case of fouls, for example, kids are taught it's only wrong if they get caught and they are taught how to foul without getting caught. Is the line between part-of-the-game cheating and really-bad-don't-do-it cheating always clear?

I wrote a piece about this in 2005. It is here.

It would really be something if Mark McGwire stood up and demanded that sports define cheating clearly and unequivocally, demand a zero-tolerance policy toward it, and make fairness and the rejection of cheating a principle at least as important as toughness, competitiveness, resilience, and the other qualities we are supposed to admire in elite athletes.

But he didn't.

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