It finally happened - Joe Thompson

Former Major League Baseball player, Mark McGwire, finally admitted what everyone had known already.

His less-than-subtle dance around pointed questions about steroid usage came to an abrupt end with his recent admission of guilt. Somehow, I don't feel a lot better about McGwire's admission, after his many denials. He stonewalled the issue until he felt he could admit guilt without much collateral damage.

As a late baby boomer, drug usage always has been part of my consciousness. College in the '70s had lots of drug availability, whether you sought it or not. There always were a few McGwire-type athletes floating around campus, but no one took them too seriously. Undoubtedly, we were more innocent in our approach to drugs, but altering athletic performance through science always seemed a little weird.

After completing college, and while working with police and court reporting, I had a quick refresher course on the other side of drug usage. The world of adults did not look kindly on drug usage, and I saw many young people, who learned the hard way that the drug-enforcement culture was less forgiving than the collegiate atmosphere they had known.

So, why the fascination with drugs by modern-day athletes? Babe Ruth was well-known for drinking and carousing throughout his baseball career, but still managed to set a historic, home run mark that only the gentleman, Hank Aaron, could overcome -- before McGwire, that is.

The Babe's prodigious drinking has intrigued sports historians as to how good he could have been, if he had been sober and had taken better care of himself. And Aaron has talked, many times, of the strain and pressure he felt while chasing the Babe's home run record, but he did not use drugs to help him do it.

There are many times in my life when I probably could have performed better with a chemical edge, but something always made me believe that doing it with chemical help created more problems than it solved.

Any parent of a child today has to cringe when McGwire-like statements are batted around the sports arenas. But in saying that, I have to remember how many energy drinks and health supplements are on the market today, that adults use without thinking of long-term consequences. In fact, ESPN might go off the air, without all of the artificial strength-and-endurance products it advertises.

McGwire's reluctant admission brings to mind a new category of sports statistics. For example, in track and field events, wind-aided runners are noted as such in the record books. In hockey, outdoor hockey games are noted as such for posterity. So, why don't we create a new category of asterisks in the record books for drug-enhanced performances in sports?

The sports teams of the World War II era have asterisks beside their records, due to the number of regular players who were fighting overseas. And college sports programs have more asterisks than anyone can imagine, due to alumni and recruiting shenanigans that have altered seasonal records.

At least, with asterisks to denote those athletes who knowingly cheated the system, we could acknowledge those who made a greater personal effort. Or, maybe, we should create an "asterisk" hall of fame for athletes of any sport, including the Olympics, who cheated with drugs, got caught, or had to admit drugs were part of their success. Gosh, the Chinese could have their own hall of fame, just with their Olympic athletes, who took illegal drugs.

And we probably would have to make a separate wing for the Tour de France and bicycling athletes.

I am not advocating passive sports participation for children. Hitting a home run, scoring a touchdown, and making a last-minute shot, all are valuable lessons for children and young adults. But the need to overwhelm and obliterate your opponents through enhanced performance has no place in a society which values honesty and integrity.

Maybe that was the real issue for McGwire -- too little honesty and integrity.

Joe Thompson is commercial print manager for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at jthompson@news-daily.com.