Mark McGwire, baseball's home-run hitter of renown, needs to have a serious sit-down with Shannon Sharpe, a wide receiver of renown for football's Denver Broncos.
The two have documented wondrous abilities on the playing fields. Both have stumbled off the field.
Mr. McGwire, who tattooed a record 70 homers last year and is continuing the barrage (44 as of yesterday), unquestionably diminished his accomplishments because he fueled his exploits with a muscle-building and performance-enhancing drug, androstenedione. It's banned by the NFL, the NCAA, the Olympics, and professional tennis. Baseball is thinking about prohibiting it. But baseball takes a long time to think.
How many dingers would Roger Maris and Babe Ruth have hit with andro inside them? Experts generally agree that it is an anabolic steroid and that the safety of it is a major concern. Regardless, it can be purchased over the counter.
McGwire was furious when word leaked out last season he was using it. He defended andro vigorously albeit wrongly: "There's absolutely nothing wrong with it." Ongoing discussion and questions put him in an increasingly blue mood. He stomped around saying he'd keep using it, by gum.
During spring training, McGwire harrumphed that the substance has "absolutely nothing to do with me hitting a baseball." So why take it?
But, to McGwire's enormous credit, a few days ago he told reporters in St. Louis he stopped using andro four months ago. The main reason for his behavior reversal: "Young kids take it because of me. I don't like that."
All we have is McGwire's word on this - no confirming drug test, no polygraph - but that's good enough. We believe him. And youngsters do take it because of him. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says sales of andro increased fivefold once McGwire was found out. The increase might be substantially more, according to other reports.
Enough. The point is that McGwire has been big enough, man enough, and human enough to realize the influence he has over millions of wannabes.
It is hard, often impossible, for us to admit when we're wrong. That McGwire did is all to his credit. If life had to be boiled down to one rule, it's this: Do the right thing.
This dovetails neatly with Shannon Sharpe.
Last weekend, the Broncos played a preseason game in Australia against the San Diego Chargers. Nothing special, except for Mr. Sharpe.
He arrived in a McGwire-sized funk. Setting foot in a gloriously hospitable land with people as kind as anywhere on the planet, Sharpe announced he hated them and their place. He was mad because he couldn't get a taxi. Given a chance the next day to soften his remarks, he instead intensified them: "The people I bumped into that were Australians were rude."
Granted, Sharpe is a motor mouth. The problem is not to get him to talk but to get him to stop. His thoughts flow before his brain engages. He's the human equivalent to shifting truck gears without the clutch being fully engaged: There is grinding.
Nobody who knows Sharpe ever confuses what he says with what is.
On top of everything, he slightly injured himself on Australian soil and was unable to play in the game.
Enough. Sharpe needs to sit at McGwire's knee. He needs to be convinced that he did wrong, and all that is required is that he do right. In this case, it's hard because once the toothpaste is out of the tube, putting it back is difficult.
McGwire should say: "Shannon, I've been where you are. I was wrong about andro. I needlessly tainted my accomplishments and, worse, I wrongly influenced kids. You've done the same thing. You're going to be in the Hall of Fame, like me, but your flapping mouth gives kids the wrong notion of how to behave. We have responsibilities, whether we like it or not, to conduct ourselves properly."
Sharpe's response should be: "Yes, sir."
Then Sharpe should write a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald - which, understandably miffed by his outburst, had a story on the departure of the NFL entourage saying, "They won't be missed" - and apologize. It could be short.
I behaved like a boorish jerk. I don't know why. I was tired but that's never an excuse.
What you saw was the classic Ugly American, and I was not a pretty picture. At least I can say I'm sorry. I do because I am.
Sincerely, Shannon Sharpe
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