Friday, November 10, 2006
Former MLB all-star pitcher Dwight Gooden was released from prison yesterday after completing a sentence he received for violating his probation by using cocaine. The 41-year-old Gooden walked out of Gainesville Correctional and will not be on probation. With credit for time served in jail and in a secure drug treatment facility, Gooden’s total prison time totaled seven months. His original sentence was a year and a day. Whenever I read this kind of story, I always feel sick. So many careers, not just in sports but in every facet of life, have been ruined by the scourge that is cocaine. Like most people my age (48) I went through a period of my life when I experimented with cocaine, back in the 1980’s when everybody was doing it. At first I thought it was fun and exciting, but very quickly I realized that it was essentially Satan in the form of a powder. I remember the parties back during that period of time when all the supposedly cool people with the coke would disappear in the back room and come out sniffling, licking their gums and rubbing their noses. Cocaine messed up more good parties than bad drunks wearing lampshades ever did! Cocaine is an old drug and has been around a lot longer than any team sport in this country. Coca leaves were first used by Incan athletes and were believed to be a gift from the “Sun God.” By 1550, coke became part of the Old World. It became commercially available in the 1880’s. Sigmund Freud used it to treat his patients. Coca-Cola at one time had cocaine it in until they realized that little kids who had consumed the beverage were just having too much fun. In 1906, the federal Pure Food and Drug Act regulated the distribution of the drug. And in 1970, the Controlled Substance Act made it extremely illegal. When I think of all the great athletes this insidious drug has taken down – guys like Darryl Strawberry, Steve Howe, Hollywood Henderson, Lawrence Taylor (although it never seemed to affect his play), Ken Caminiti, and of course, our good friend Dwight Gooden – it makes me even sicker. Why couldn’t these men have fought off this terrible drug? How could they have let it take over their lives? Those are the questions surrounding any addiction, whether it be sex, food, steroids, crank, crack, smack, GHB, Ecstasy, cigarettes, online porno, pot, gambling, even TV. People get trapped by demons in their lives in a wide assortment of ways. But, when it happens to people with amazing ability and limitless potential, it’s really sad. If the janitor at your high school is addicted to say, crystal meth, for example (which seems to be the drug of choice with many janitors) then that’s not such a big deal. Maybe a few floors end up a little dirtier (or even cleaner, for that matter) and he eventually gets fired from a dead end job. But, when an amazing athlete like Dwight Gooden screws up what could have very likely been a Hall of Fame career in professional baseball, then there’s a lot more at stake and the tragedy, I believe, is much greater. Gooden had a career record of 194-112 with a lifetime 3.51 ERA, but you know he would have at least had a shot at winning 300 if it hadn’t been for coke. If I were an athlete with any promise, I would stay so far away from drugs it wouldn’t even be funny. Why mess up a potentially really good thing with a substance that will eventually give you headaches and make you grind your teeth down to their roots? I hope Gooden gets it together. He ruined his baseball career but at this point, his life is still salvageable.