Mark McGwire and Harry Reid: To Forgive or Not to Forgive...

It is not whether you sin or use; it's how you play the game.

Sinners and users, winners and losers. Whom do we forgive...and who will never be forgiven?

Two of the biggest news stories of the last couple of days involve a powerful Capitol Hill politician and a retired Major League Baseball star. One is forgiven. The other can forget it.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid used racially insensitive language a couple years ago when he said Obama had a good chance to win the presidential election because he was a "light-skinned African-American," with "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Apparently, Reid said this when he was explaining why he supported an Obama run for the presidency. The new book, Game Change— which is receiving millions and millions of dollars worth of free publicity from the story— reportedly recounts the incident.

As soon as the comments were made public, Reid moved to diffuse a potentially explosive situation. He contacted the President to apologize and he issued a public apology. He insisted his heart was in the right place, but his words were poorly chosen.

Of course, Barrack Obama rushed to forgive— and defend— the author of Obama's baby, the health care reform bill, saying that Reid is "a good man who has always been on the right side of history." Obama the wordsmith cased it as Reid using "inartful language in trying to praise me."

Additionally, the ever-vigilant leader of the NAACP Al Sharpton has rushed to Reid's side, even suggesting that, while Reid's remark was politically incorrect, his assertion was, alas, dead on, and that is the real travesty.

As far as the establishment is concerned, all is forgiven and should now be forgotten for Senator Harry Reid.

Enter the case of "The People of the United States in General and Major League Baseball Fans in Particular vs. Mark McGwire." After pleading the fifth before the United States senate in 2005, saying, "I am not here to talk about the past," after dodging questions and issuing denials for years, the eligible-for-the-Hall of Fame-but-not-likely home run crusher has come clean. He has admitted to use of steroids to help in recovery from injuries, to prevent injuries, and to enhance his performance.

A contrite McGwire said, "It was a wrong thing I did. I totally regret it. I just wish I was never in that era."

Do you think the Hall of Fame voters will accept the apology, open their arms, and usher into their hallowed hall one of history's most prolific home run hitters, a man whose mere presence in a lineup brought fans to the park two hours early, just to see batting practice, a man whose average of one home run every 10.6 at bats is the best in league history, a man who finished his career with 583 taters?

Me neither. Not in his lifetime anyway. Maybe some day in the way-distant future, when the steroid thing is all finally put into some perspective, and the voters weren't even embryonic possibilities when McGwire snubbed Congress, maybe then. But not now...and not any time soon.

I wrote all of that to get to this: What is the difference? Why is Reid forgiven, but McGwire not so much? Why is Michael Vick reviled while Kobe Bryant is revered? Why is one athlete, politician, or other public figure forgiven, while another is raked over the coals?

The answer may be more complicated than we know, but some things about forgiveness are fairly certain. There are sure steps one can take to obtain it.


I don't mean a qualified confession. Not one of those, "I did it, but it wasn't my fault...I didn't know better...Everyone was doing it" confessions. Those kind just don't cut it.

Don't wait until you are cornered and have no other option. Vick did that. Didn't work. Don't wait until it is in your best interest to confess, the way McGwire seems to be doing now. Just...don't wait.

Stand up, speak up, be sincere. Andy Pettitte did. Roger Clemens did not. Get the picture?


Who can forget Kobe Bryant's emotional confession with his wife at his side? Who can forget the remorse he exuded when he confessed to a tryst (but not to rape, of course)?

We want to see contrition. We want to know they are sorry they did it. Why? Because we are sorry, too. Sorry they burst our bubble. Sorry they let us down.

More than that, we want confession and contrition because of our own guilt. We know how hard the first one is to do and how good the second one feels. It is a cleansing.


Again, I mention Andy Pettitte, who made himself available to speak out against the use of steroids, to warn youngsters of it, to sincerely plead with others not to repeat his mistakes. Vick, conversely, did such things only when it became clear he had no choice.One got the sense he never saw much wrong with what he did.

Ideally, we would stop there. In a perfect world, those things are enough to get the slate wiped clean, a second chance. But this is not a perfect world...and anything but ideal. There are other— more sinister— elements at work: Things like...

Current Value to the Team, Sport, or Political Party

Let's say Kobe Bryant, rather than being arguably the greatest player currently in the NBA, is a backup center or aging star with diminishing skills, is he still welcomed by John Q. Public— and Lakers fans— with open arms, or is this now a good reason to dump that salary and cut ties, all the while looking like you took the high road and distanced yourself from an unsavory character?

(Come to think of it, there are rumors now that Kobe has been involved in an affair with a Lakers' cheerleader. Wonder if anyone cares?)

How about Bill Belichick, who is known to have cheated in order to win a Super Bowl? Suppose he was still the Browns coach and still stinking up the place with a dismal record? Does he get that slap-on-the-wrist fine and have the evidence destroyed by the NFL, or do they make an example of him?

What if Harry Reid, rather than being the majority leader in the Senate is some junior representative from, say, Idaho? Is he then chided by the President and rebuked by the Democratic Party?

Part of the Establishment

Belichick can cheat and skate free because he is part of the NFL establishment. Reid can use the archaic and (when used by anyone not a leader in the Democratic party) offensive term "Negro" and everyone from the President to the NAACP flocks to his side to defend him. Joe Biden can classify Obama as "the first mainstream African-American candidate who is articulate and bright and clean" and not only avoid any real damage to his reputation, but ultimately be chosen as that very candidate's running mate.

How is this possible?

Simple. Just be the establishment. The Democrats introduced Political Correctness (PC) during the Clinton administration. They invented the game and from that time to this have remained the only entity not expected to play by the rules of that game.

For Mark McGwire, unfortunately, he is neither the Establishment, nor does he currently have anything of real value to offer it. While MLB can, as an organization, sweep steroids under the rug, turn a blind eye and deaf ear to critics, and move on, that privilege only exists for those in power. The deposed can be disposed.

Forgive Reid? Sure! Too much is at stake not to do so. What if he takes the health reform bill down with him? So, play it down, write it off as a simple misspoken word. Forgive...and forget!

Forgive McGwire? Why? What is the point? What is to be gained from that? Let him twist. Let him suffer. Let him live in Limbo. Good enough for him. We don't need him anymore anyway.

For fallible public figures, forgiveness is not about the things it ought to be about. Confession is good for the soul, but not good enough by itself. Contrition is nice. Correcting your course is wonderful. But none of these alone, nor all of them together will be enough to secure forgiveness.

Whether you are a sinner or a user, when it comes to forgiveness in America, the difference between the winner and the loser is how you play the game...and with whom.

Thankfully, God has a very different standard. If you need more information about it, drop me a note.