Mark McGwire: New Poster Child for Cognitive Dissonance

Answer = Himself

Question = Who is Mark McGwire trying to deceive?

It’s laughable, isn’t it.

• He took steroids for “health reasons”
• The drugs “didn’t help him” hit home runs
• The “steroid era” made him do it

Mark McGwire’s belated confession to using performance enhancing drugs was only surprising in his determination to call them “health enhancing drugs.” And even that wasn’t all that surprising.

I could easily go off on what a total jerk McGwire is. But I’m a big believer in trying to understand where people are coming from before judging them. And here is my most generous take on McGwire’s story.

1. He didn’t lie to Congress: Did you hear that, Manny Sosa?

We all know that when McGwire took the 5th in front of Congress, he was indirectly admitting steroid use, but trying to avoid criminal charges. It was a pathetic moment, no doubt, but it actually takes real courage to make such a jerk out of yourself. The cowardly way out would have been what other people did-lie in front of Congress. See: Op cite to Mr. Sosa!

2. He admitted to using “andro” while still playing baseball. So it’s not like he thought people were unaware of his use of performance enhancing drugs. (OK: he only confessed to using andro after reporters saw a bottle in his locker. Score this one a C-.)

3. He undoubtedly convinced himself that it was okay to use steroids. This is the power of cognitive dissonance, people.

• He always knew himself as a great homerun hitter: “They are still talking about my high school homeruns for gosh sakes.”

• It is easy for people to slide into immorality. He undoubtedly strained some muscle, somewhere, sometime in his career, and was itching to get back to full health. His use probably started around then, with a dash of andro, maybe a teaspoon of HGH. This is how good people end up doing bad things-one step at a time.

• Self-justification is so human: “Everyone was doing it”, or so it seemed. To not take performance enhancing drugs (oh I mean, health enhancing drugs!) would have felt, to McGwire, like it was putting himself at a disadvantage.

• Having taking these steps, he was in full cognitive dissonance mode. He knew he was a good guy, heck-he visited children’s hospitals in his free time. So it must, therefore, be okay to use these drugs.

4. He has now had more than a decade to develop a story that solves all his internal contradictions-that makes his steroid use something that a “good guy” can do.

So here is my final and overly generous version of Mark McGwire’s life story: The guy probably is a good guy. He’s a cheater and a coward, and he is self-delusional. And he never (!) could have beaten Roger Maris’ single-season home run record without the help of home run enhancing drugs.

But the steroid era in baseball was a time of mass delusion. Fans, baseball officials and players all convinced themselves that comic-book physiques were the result of advanced weight lifting techniques, and not the result of new drugs.

I don’t admire McGwire, but I don’t completely condemn him either, given that the majority of his colleagues were doing things as bad or worse than he was back then. But I pity him for his self-delusions.

Now if you don’t mind, I need to step into the kitchen for a dose of an alertness enhancing drug, which I have deluded myself into thinking of as a cup of coffee.

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