Mark McGwire and MLB Steroid Users Need a 12-Step Approach

Bill YatesContributor IJanuary 12, 2010

29 Jun 2001: Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants talks with Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, California.  <DIGITAL IMAGE> Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORT
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Mark McGwire's admission of steroid use adds to the list of MLB players making an attempt at rehabilitation.  

Many have struggled to do so. Some followed advice from lawyers and while they may have limited their legal risk, they have also reduced their chance at recovery.

Some have followed the advice of public relations experts, but I'm not sure that approach is any more helpful.

I think MLB steroid users might do better by following a rehabilitation approach by using the 12-Step model.

This model developed as a series of steps in the process of recovery from alcoholism.

Anabolic steroid and performance enhancing drug use is different in many ways from alcoholism, but with some modifications, I think a 12-Step plan offers a model strategy for the professional athlete.

So here are my recommendations for MLB steroid users based on adaptations of the 12-Step program.


Step 1

Tell the truth. This principle is best done as soon as possible. Delay only adds to speculation and rumors that are often worse than the truth. MLB might think about organizing a Day of Truth. Athletes who still have confessions to make could make them at the same time. It could be a big step in moving MLB into a new era.

Step 2

Take responsibility for your behavior. Steroid use is a choice and when making that choice, it is important to accept the responsibility for the behavior. 

Step 3

Accept the consequences of your behavior. There are significant consequences to using illegal substances. Accept that many fans will be angry. Facing criticism from Hall of Fame voters is a consequence of your behavior. Don't try to lobby for ignoring your behavior to try to get in the Hall of Fame. If you feel you should be in the Hall of Fame, accept that your steroid use may block your qualification in the voters' eyes.

Step 4

Don't minimize the effect of steroids on your performance. Mark McGwire seemed to miss this step. He actually went the wrong way in arguing he might have actually hit more home runs without steroids. You can't argue that you would have been great even without steroids. Your steroid use kept us from ever being able to find out how great a "clean" athlete you might have been.

Step 5

Don't say you didn't know you were taking steroids. MLB players are responsible for following the rules. If you broke the rules without full knowledge of the extent, you still broke the rules.

Step 6

Don't say you were using steroids for health reasons. There are very few actual medical reasons for the use of steroids. There is no approved use of steroids for faster recovery. Steroids are a controlled narcotic drug under U.S. Drug Enforcement classification. They won't be impressed by saying you were only using it for health reasons.

Step 7

Apologize to your fellow MLB competitors. MLB great Joe Morgan responded to McGwire's confession by noting that MLB players who did not use steroids are the forgotten victims who suffered twice. First they competed against users who didn't play by the rules and pumped up their performance. Second, they suffered when steroid users received higher salaries for their performance, leaving less for the non-users. 

Step 8

Donate a significant amount of the money you made in baseball to a charitable cause. People will not believe your sincerity unless there is evidence of intent to make financial amends. A good charitable cause might be to a fund that helps former MLB players in financial trouble. Since some of your financial compensation may be related to the effects of steroid use, it is only appropriate to return it to baseball. 

Step 9

Apologize to your fans, friends, and family for your steroid use. You have let many people down. They deserve an apology for your behavior.

Step 10

Ask for forgiveness from your fans, friends, and family for your steroid use. Some of your closest supporters will be able to provide a level of forgiveness for your behavior. You are going to need this in the rehabilitation process. 

Step 11

Forgive yourself. This will be easy for some who don't feel steroid use is wrong or that they are responsible for their behavior. I suspect it will be more difficult for some like Mark McGwire to forgive themselves for their behavior. Step 11 is much easier after completing steps one through 10.

Step 12

Rebuild a meaningful life in an area outside of baseball. McGwire will have a challenge in returning to baseball as a St. Louis Cardinal coach. Imagine his reception by the Chicago Cubs fans on his first appearance at Wrigley Field.  

McGwire's public baseball reappearance will bring back the steroid issue to the fans' attention. It might delay the rehabilitation that MLB itself needs to experience.