They apologize, and we -- media, fans, relatively disinterested observers -- pick the apology apart and judge whether or not it's sincere.
It's just how we operate in society now, and it shouldn't be a total shock when we do it.
The latest is former baseball superstar Mark McGwire, hired recently to take over as hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Five years ago, McGwire feebly appeared before Congress, refusing to address allegations that he used steroids during his playing career. Of course, everyone took this as an unspoken admission that he had used steroids, and his silence only further convicted him in the court of public opinion.
Monday, McGwire finally came clean. He admitted what we all either knew and talked openly about, or knew and chose not to believe.
"From 1993 to 1996, I was a walking M.A.S.H. unit," he said. "My body was beat up. When I was approached about steroids and HGH, I just wanted to feel normal again. I took such a low dose. I never went over 250 pounds. I didn't want to look like Lou Ferrigno. I didn't abuse it. I just couldn't get over the [injury] hump. "There was always a roadblock. When I got hurt in 1996, I told my father that I was going to retire. In 1997, '98, '99, I did [androstenedione] and my body felt great. But after the All-Star break [in 2000], I broke down and tried more steroids. I really regret it."
McGwire insists -- both in conversations with ESPN's Tim Kurkjian and MLB Network's Bob Costas -- that his use did not enhance his performance.
This is poppycock. We all know it, and it doesn't help McGwire's story to bang that drum. However, a society that thrives on second chances wants people to apologize for their misgivings, only so we can skewer them for not saying the right things at the right times.
Yes, McGwire blew it in front of Congress, and yes, he's full of it when he says the steroids didn't help his performance. However, as Rob Neyer (a guest many, many times on the old radio show) notes, there's a lot of self-righteousness going on here.
I've always been right down the middle when it comes to McGwire's Hall of Fame candidacy. His first few years on the ballot, my suggestion was that we wait for a while. This time around, I came around; we've seen enough names to know that within McGwire's professional culture, steroids and Human Growth Hormone were merely tools of the trade, little different from protein shakes and whirlpools and Nautilus machines. You may, if you like, continue to summon from your wellspring of self-righteousness the energy to condemn McGwire for doing what so many of his peers were doing, all in the interest of earning a good living and fulfilling his widely considered destiny. As for me, I've run dry. It's not at all clear that McGwire will someday be elected to the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, it's fairly clear that the Hall of Fame will not be much of a Hall of Fame if, 20 years from now, many of the best players of the 1990s have been left out. It's fairly clear that someone will eventually realize that the players of the 1990s were a product of their times. And once someone realizes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame, it won't be easy to maintain the position that Mark McGwire does not belong.
Yes, it was wrong for McGwire to do what he did. No, he should not skate unscathed into the Hall of Fame.
However, he has stepped up and apologized for what he did. There is no real benefit to be had from further dragging him through the mud or torturing him over the past.
Tom Haudricourt, a writer I respect immensely, vehemently disagrees with this take.
McGwire said he wasn't doing this to curry more favor in Hall of Fame voting, which might be true. But I highly doubt that he'll get the 75% votes necessary for election after admitting he cheated. He got only 23.7% this year. I haven't voted for him because he wouldn't come forward and say anything, but now that he did and admitted he cheated, I probably still won't vote for him. I certainly don't like this line of thinking that it didn't help his performance.
You might not like it, Tom, but you just pretty much admitted that you have no intention of voting for McGwire, no matter what his numbers are, how they stack up against his peers, or what he says and does about this issue.
It strikes me as a very closed-minded stance to have when you hold something as significant as a Hall of Fame vote.
On the flip side, it's high time McGwire used his past fame to help make a difference on this issue. With the new gig in St. Louis, he should have some opportunities to turn this into a positive.
In the meantime, you better stay off the high horse, because I doubt you're prepared for the next name to be added to the "Took Steroids in the 1990s" list.