Lack of Immunity Delayed McGwire's Admission, Says Ex-Congressman
"It was clear to everybody he would have talked," said former congressman Tom Davis, who was the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that called the now-infamous March 2005 hearing into steroids in baseball. "I think if he had been able to get immunity from prosecution, he would have told us the whole story. It became clear he wouldn't talk without it and I don't blame him. He had a family to protect."
Then U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez refused to grant McGwire immunity before that hearing, which effectively forced him to invoke the Fifth Amendment and utter, "I'm not here to talk about the past." Had he spoken about steroid use through his final season with the St. Louis Cardinals (2001), McGwire could have potentially been charged with a violation of the Anabolic Steroid Control Act that has a statute of limitations of five years.
"Who would talk in that situation?" said Davis, now an advisor at Deloitte Consulting. "He was in a very tough predicament. Still, he's a big boy and he's paid the price. He's had a lot of glory in his career, a lot which has been stripped away [since the hearing]. Still, he's just one of the players who were doing 55 mph in a 45 zone."
Both Davis and his successor as head of the Reform Committee, Henry Waxman, said they didn't call the various hearings over the years -- which have ensnared Sammy Sosa, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens among others --- to embarrass pro athletes for political gain.
"We began an investigation of steroid use in baseball because we were concerned about its impact on steroid use by teenagers," said Waxman, (D - Calif.), in a statement. "Millions of teenagers were influenced by the culture of the clubhouse and were taking steroids with serious and sometimes deadly consequences. Mark McGwire is doing the right thing by telling the truth about his steroid use."
Beyond his statement and interview on the MLB Network, McGwire reached out to Don Hooton on Monday. Hooton founded and oversees a steroid education program named after his son, Taylor, a prep baseball player from Texas who took his own life after abruptly stopping a cycle of steroids.
"He said, 'You are one of the people I wanted to call and express my apologies to for my behavior,'" said Hooton, who spoke to McGwire for about 10 minutes before the news release was made public. "He said he was very, very sorry. He wanted to give me a heads up as opposed to reading it in the paper."
McGwire had been privately contributing money to the Taylor Hooton Foundation for years. Don Hooton wouldn't say how much McGwire had given, but added that "it was not an insignificant amount."
Hooton thought it was just a matter of time before McGwire had to make himself available to questions of steroid use after he took the job as the St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach. He praised McGwire for doing it in such a public way.
"I hope kids get the meaning of what he's saying," Hooton said. "There can be short-term gains by cheating with drugs, but eventually there are consequences to not doing it the right way. They are going to come back and bite you. That certainly happened with Mark."
Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said he's happy that McGwire came forward, even if it's a little late.
"It's obviously good. I'm sure it's a relief to him," Tygart said in an e-mail. "But the real tragedy here is that being truthful in front of Congress five years ago would have had much more meaning, especially to all the kids watching who at that time thought he was a hero."
Victor Conte, the founder of the shuttered supplement company BALCO that supplied performance-enhancing drugs to elite athletes, said in a statement he hopes others will follow McGwire's lead.
"Those who continue to lie about their drug use will remain under dark cloud," Conte said. "I urge the athletes that have used drugs in the past to come clean, so that we can move on."