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Scott Ostler

True Confessions Not Necessarily Helpful to Recovering Addicts

April 07, 1987|SCOTT OSTLER

Hey, Lawrence Taylor. Tell us all about it. Tell us about the cocaine and the booze. Tell us about those wild and crazy drug times. Did you ever sneak a toot on the sideline? In the huddle? Did you ever get high before meeting a President or a Pope? Did you steal team jerseys and sell them for coke money?

That's what we want from Lawrence Taylor, isn't it? True cokefessions. Lively, lurid details of his journey to the depths of drug dependency, and some graphic details on the rehabilitation. Throw in some remorse and moralizing. That will hold us for a week or so. Until we need another fix.

Let's face it, this drug stuff makes excellent reading. I hesitate to say it's fun reading these stories, but it is certainly riveting. OK, it's fun. But that's all right, because it's also educational, isn't it?

Don't we learn about another side of life? Don't our kids learn valuable lessons from these horror stories?

So we badger Lawrence Taylor and other famous recovering drug abuser athletes to tell us what it was like.

Many do. But Lawrence Taylor does not. "I don't want to get into that," he has said repeatedly.

We persist, because it is the media's job to persist, and because the public clamors to know. We say, "Give the kids some advice, Lawrence," and Lawrence says:

"If people are going to make mistakes, they're going to do what they want to do. Sometimes in life, they're going to find out what's right and what's wrong. They'll make their own decisions. . . . I don't give advice to students. I'm not qualified to give advice to people."

And it may turn out, when all the smoke and coke has cleared, that of all the reformed druggies, Lawrence Taylor, the linebacker with the caveman image, will stand out as a Confucius in cleats.

True confessions, we're finding out, might not be as wonderful for the confessor or the audience as we like to believe. Dr. Forest Tennant, drug-abuse adviser to the National Football League and the Dodgers, says those quickie public confessions are a danger sign.

"As a general rule, until a person has been clean for quite some time, if they decide to come forward publicly, it's almost tantamount to relapse," Tennant says. "The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous understood that. That's why they called it Anonymous .

"They may feel they need and want to do that (make public confessions), but it's like getting the cast off a broken leg before it's healed. When someone gets himself addicted, the chemistry of his brain has been changed, and the changes may be permanent. Certainly, the chemical deficiencies will not have been well healed yet. They don't need the added stress.

"They need to control the urge (to confess publicly). This is a very private, serious, life-threatening condition. It's best to lay back for a while, keep it quiet for a year or so. In self-help, people are taught, 'Don't blame or accuse. Be kind to the world. You can't afford to bad-mouth people, to get in confrontations.'

"I feel sorry for Gary McLain (the former Villanova basketball player who sold his confessions to Sports Illustrated). He was condemning and taking on a lot of people, and it will come back to haunt him. It will bring additional stresses on him which could hurt his recovery."

But it was such fun--uh, educational--reading. Besides, what about a famous athlete's moral debt to society, his obligation to present his horror story so the kids will throw out their dope?

The best argument against that argument was presented by McLain himself, who had been pals with Len Bias. When he heard of Bias' death, McLain was sick, shocked, he sobbed like a baby. He went to a bar, ran into two reporters he knew, and had a drink. Writes McLain:

"They were saying, 'Sad thing about Len.' I nodded my agreement. Then I got drunk, bought cocaine and got high all night."

Len Bias didn't scare Don Rogers much, either.

And how much did Dwight Gooden learn from reading and hearing about another fireballing phenom, Steve Howe? How much did Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins learn from the confessions and insights of then-teammate John Lucas? How much did Lucas learn?

Has there been a major, or even a minor, drop-off in national drug use since Bias and Rogers dusted themselves, since McLain and others confessed?

So maybe Lawrence Taylor hit the coffin nail on the head when he said: "I do not make decisions for any person, because they do what they have to do."

Still, the public and the media will continue to appeal to Taylor and others.

When Dwight Gooden walks out of his rehab center, we will be there on the doorstep, the press and the fans, asking for his story. Pleading. We will offer him money, psychic cleansing and social redemption, in exchange for some juicy stories of the high life.

But if Lawrence Taylor has been a good role model, Gooden will shake his head and quietly walk away.

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