If there was going to be some real price to pay, then maybe the breaking voice, quivering lips and sniffles to fight back tears would generate some catharsis in me for steroid cheats like Mark McGwire when they hold their meet-the-press confessionals and employ such a full range of histrionics. The problem is there isn't any tangible penalty. There is only reward. In McGwire's case, a job with, of all employers, Major League Baseball, the very game he played and ripped off.
He followed in pro football Rodney Harrison, who retired after last season from the New England Patriots -- where in 2007 he was suspended four games for using human growth hormone -- and walked right into an NFL Sunday Night Football broadcasting job with NBC. Harrison shares the broadcast with Bob Costas, who on Monday, interestingly, had McGwire delivered to him so McGwire could further display his emotions in a bid to win the public's forgiveness. (Did I miss the NFL Sunday Night telecast on NBC where Costas grilled Harrison about his use of banned drugs?)
And before Harrison last year, there was Alex Rodriguez, who kept his gig after his training camp mea culpa: "I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth ... being one of the greatest players of all-time. And I did take a banned substance. For that, I'm very sorry," A-Rod said. At the end of last season, he walked away with a World Series' ring.
Truth is, despite all of the choked-up press conferences, none of these guys have really taken the medicine all of us have made seem so hard to swallow, that they cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDS, as we call them cutely these days like some child's candy. The only athletes who have danced to the music they were forced to face are women -- two to be exact, former all-world track and field star Marion Jones and sprint cyclist Tammy Thomas, who won a silver medal for the United States at the 2001 World Track Cycling Championships. (Tim Montgomery, Jones' old boyfriend and cheating sprint champion, got sent up on a money laundering plea.)
Jones and Thomas went to court. Jones and Thomas got sentenced -- Jones behind bars and Thomas behind the walls of her home under house arrest.
Jones got six months in prison, plus two years of probation and community service, for lying to federal prosecutors investigating the use of performance-enhancing substances tied to the infamous BALCO (Bay Area Lab Co-Operative) operation that ensnared names from a myriad of sports like baseball's other big slugger Barry Bonds and boxer Shane Mosley. Thomas was handed six months of home confinement for lying to the grand jury investigating BALCO too.
Unlike baseball, which is returning McGwire to its bosom as a Cardinals hitting coach -- and has yet to jettison other admitted cheaters like the Giambi brothers, Troy Glaus, Andy Pettitte, et al. -- USA Track & Field hasn't invited Jones, its face for a decade, back to coach or mentor or even advise up-and-coming stars what not to do. Even cyber hacks cut deals with the government or industry to show them how to better secure their computer systems.
Neither ESPN, NBC nor ABC, who share the broadcasting of USA Track & Field events like the venerable Millrose Games at the end of this month and the Indoor Championships the end of next month, have sought Jones, as NBC did Harrison for Sunday Night Football, to join their commentary booths.
The University of North Carolina, where Jones was a scholarship athlete, hasn't asked her to help coach its women's track team, either. Jones has been left to fend for herself after getting out of prison. She's attempting an athletic comeback now as a basketball player, which she played at North Carolina as a point guard on a national championship team.
Thomas had fewer things in her sport to fall back on if there was going to be anything for her to fall back on at all. Cycling isn't a lucrative sport for many unless they're named Armstrong. So Thomas was working towards becoming a lawyer and had taken out loans to attend law school at the University of Oklahoma at the time she was indicted. She is on pace to graduate with an Oklahoma law degree later this year, but it has been suggested that it will be difficult for her to make the bar in any state with a perjury conviction -- a crime of moral turpitude -- on her record. So Thomas' involvement in the Steroids Era could even cost her a second career unattached to her first as an athlete.
None of this is to suggest that Jones and Thomas should be suffering less harsh consequences for their mistakes. Jones confessed in her own teary-eyed press conference as the smoke around her suggested she was on fire, too. Thomas infamously lashed out at jurors and prosecutors as she heard her conviction read in court a couple of years ago. She refused then to admit guilt and charged those who convicted her with simply being out to ruin her life.
McGwire's life certainly wasn't ruined by his admission at the start of this workweek. He gained employment out of it and, to read a few baseball writers, maybe even a few votes for the Hall of Fame. A few people may even have felt sorry for him as he struggled to say that the lie he lived with for so long was the toughest thing he had to do in his life.
Of course, the tougher thing would've been to man up, as they say in the vernacular of tough-guy sports like baseball where the 6-foot-5, 235-pound McGwire loomed for so long, and admit to wrongdoing when lawmakers on Capitol Hill first asked, immunity be damned. That would be the thing for Bonds and Clemens to do as well, federal investigation be damned.
I'd feel sorry for them if they went to prison and faced bankruptcy and lost their homes because no one in their sport would embrace them anymore. But compared to the ladies, they're just fine. They're still playing games -- with everyone.