But true atonement isn't intertwined with a victory parade. It's a private reckoning—with your conscience and with those you've harmed. What makes McGwire's coming out now most disturbing is how self-serving it is: His confession was a career move. The redheaded slugger had never told his son, Matt, whom he hoisted at the plate after he wrapped his biceps around homer number 62 in September 1998. Had he used Matt as a prop throughout the phony joyride? He had never told Roger Maris's children, who had to grieve the loss of their father's single-season home run record with grace and dignity from the front row that same season. How could McGwire have put them through that? He had never told St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, whose smarty-pants don't quite fit the same after he depicted McGwire to be as pure as spring water all these years. How willfully ignorant does the manager look now?
Of course, if every ball the Cards hit looks as if it's hitched to a comet next season, the collateral damage of McGwire's lies will be largely forgotten. He'll be Big Mac again in a happy Hollywood ending. "There is no sacredness to [sports] anymore," says Charles E. Yesalis, a retired Penn State professor who has written books on PEDs. "The games and the players are seen as another form of entertainment. Look, I like Spielberg movies, and I know there are special effects, but all I want is the movie. I don't want to see how the special effects are made during it. It would wreck it."
To see the reality is to ruin the escapism in sports. So offenders of all kinds are routinely welcomed back to the land of make believe. A St. Louis Dispatch headline last Friday read, MCGWIRE GETS BACK TO WORK; RELIEVED AND "READY TO MOVE ON." I get the need for closure, and certainly there's a place for forgiveness. But only if it is earned through personal accountability and not merely bestowed as a welcome-back present. Shouldn't atonement require more than a staged television event in which the actor takes a deep breath, dabs his eyes and says, "Bless me, Bob Costas, for I have sinned"?
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