Big Mac's big promise

After Mark McGwire made his teary-eyed speech on Capitol Hill, pledging to become a national spokesperson and to redirect his charitable foundation to support anti-steroids programs, a member of the House Government Reform Committee asked him to clarify a few things.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.): "You said something about your foundation and trying to help out. Tell us exactly what it is you plan for your foundation to do."

McGwire: "Well, right now?"

Cummings: "Yes. I'm talking about the present and the future, as you said."

McGwire: "Well, my foundation helps out neglected and abused children. I am going to redirect it. We have not talked about it, but I am going to redirect about this subject."

Cummings: "And you are, you're willing to be a national spokesman against steroids? See, we have got all these high school kids that are, have, are emulating you all, although you're out of the game now. They still look out to a McGwire and others. And so, you, I think you said you're willing to be a national spokesman?"

McGwire: "I'd be a great one."

Cummings: "So, that means you would do it?"

McGwire: "Be a spokesperson?"

Cummings: "Yes."

McGwire: "Absolutely."

The speechless spokesman

Mark McGwire isn't saying much these days.

Six months after volunteering on Capitol Hill -- before a national television audience -- to become a spokesperson to educate America's youth against the perils of performance-enhancing drugs, the former slugger is nowhere to be found. And few seem interested in finding him.

He has not called Major League Baseball or the MLB Players' Association to follow up on his most-public of pledges. But the politicians who subpoenaed him to testify in Washington have not bothered to further discuss the matter either.

For now, McGwire isn't returning any calls on the subject. Jim Milner, his business manager, is speaking on his behalf.

"Mark is a very private person," Milner said. "He is out of the limelight. He retired from baseball. He retired from the public light. He is now a private citizen who is concentrating on raising his family."

But that conflicts with what McGwire said on March 17.

There weren't a lot of things that McGwire would discuss that day on Capitol Hill, including his past. He refused to discuss whether he had taken performance-enhancing drugs during a career marked by towering home runs and splashy headlines. But among the few things he did say was this: "I will use whatever influence and popularity I have to discourage young athletes from taking any drug that is not recommended by a doctor."

Pressed on the subject by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), McGwire bent close to the microphone before him and said: "My message is steroids is bad. Don't do them."

In 1998, the year McGwire shattered the single-season home-run record, he made headlines off the field when a bottle of Androstenedione -- a steroids precursor then legal under baseball's liberal rules -- was found in his locker. Later, Jose Canseco, an admitted steroids user and a fellow panelist on Capitol Hill, asserted in his book "Juiced" that he and McGwire routinely injected each other with steroids when the two were Oakland A's teammates. Still, McGwire refused to address the issue under oath.

Said Cummings: "Are you taking the Fifth?"

McGwire's response, which became a familiar refrain: "I'm not here to discuss the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject."

Donald Hooton Sr., who testified before the same Congressional committee as McGwire, challenged the players who were summoned to Capitol Hill to be forthcoming about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. Hooton's son, Taylor, a high school pitcher and nephew of former major-leaguer Burt Hooton, had committed suicide after falling into a steroid-induced depression two years ago.

"Show our kids that you're man enough to face authority. Tell the truth and face the consequences," Donald Hooton said. "Your attorneys say they're worried how your public testimony might play in a court of law. How do you think your refusals to talk are playing in the court of public opinion?"

In July, Hooton invited McGwire to partner with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which fights steroid abuse.

"We would welcome any support from McGwire," Hooton told the New York Daily News. "Financial or moral -- there's plenty of room for him to help. We would welcome him as a spokesman."

But should McGwire step back into the spotlight and warn young athletes about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs, his past is a topic that must be addressed to ensure his effectiveness as a spokesperson, said Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates PR, a crisis-management firm that has advised professional baseball and football players who have used steroids and had to publicly deal with the matter.

"You are willing to talk about something when you are being truthful and you have something to share," Paul said. "If you don't want to talk about it, it's usually because you have something to hide or you think the information you might reveal would incriminate you.

"The message that people are getting right now from McGwire is that he's in hiding."

Surveys measuring the popularity of celebrities -- Q Ratings, as Marketing Evaluations calls them -- indicate that the number of people who think of McGwire in a negative light has doubled since his last public appearance, up from 14 percent in 2004 to 28 percent after McGwire's appearance on Capitol Hill. Only 20 percent of those surveyed said they believe McGwire would make a positive role model, a drop of 13 percentage points from last year. In 1999, only 9 percent thought of him in a negative light, and 46 percent said their feelings of him were positive.

"I'm not surprised that he still is not a spokesman given the way he acted six months ago," said Ray Garibaldi, who spoke with Hooton before the House Government Reform Committee steroids hearing. "If he just came clean and say what he did, he would be a tremendous spokesman."

The paper trail of a paper organization

Sandwiched between a cluster of chain restaurants and a movie theater, in a second-floor office in a strip mall along busy Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach, Calif., is the Mark McGwire Foundation for Children.

Existing primarily as a paper organization, its business address is borrowed from the accounting office that manages its forms and correspondence.

There's no shingle announcing the foundation out front, and there's no sign of McGwire inside.

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Look on the Internet and a Google search returns a Yahoo! press release, dated March 30, 1999, heralding its partnership with McGwire's organization and the creation of mcgwire.kids.yahoo.com, the official site of the foundation. Click on it now, though, and you'll get "File Not Found."

There's no listing for the foundation through the phone company, either. "Sorry," an operator says. "I can't help you."

And there's no mention of the foundation when the phone number listed on its IRS tax forms is called. "Thank you for calling the James A. Milner & Co.," greets a voice on the answering machine.

Indeed, McGwire's foundation is about as hard to find as the former slugger has been over the past six months.

There is no need to have a public presence, Milner said, because the foundation does not solicit donations.

The foundation was hastily created a month after McGwire's exuberant announcement of his legacy in September 1997, the day he agreed to the final major-league contract of his career, a three-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals worth $28 million. "Let's just say children have a special place in my heart," said McGwire, during a news conference at Busch Stadium. "It's a time in my life that I want to help them out."

By October 1997, it was operational as a 501 (c)(3), the governmental designation for a private grant-making foundation. As such, its federal tax filings are open to public scrutiny. An examination of its Form 990s over the past seven years reveals an organization that has become refocused on its original mission, but has reduced its activity to maintain its "corpus" or principal funds.

The Cardinals kicked in $100,000 as seed money that first year. And McGwire has contributed a total of $3 million to the foundation, $1 million for each of his final three seasons, beginning in 1998. When the last of those checks were collected, the stream of donations soon became a trickle. In 2001, incoming contributions were $13,349. In 2002, they dropped to $10,913. In 2003, they were $31,351. Last year, a single donation of $30,000 was made by the estate of William Pittello, a retired tire salesman and noted philanthropist from Grand Rapids, Mich.

Public filings show that from 1998 through 2004, the foundation distributed more than $2.7 million in grants, mostly to organizations that support neglected and abused children. Alexandra Dickson, McGwire's then-girlfriend who became the foundation's executive director, was abused as a child. One of the first grants was $10,000 to Stuart House, part of the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center's Rape Treatment Center where Dickson volunteered. A $2,500 check was cut for the Huntington Valley Little League, where McGwire's son played, and $25,000 went to USA Baseball, the organization that selected McGwire to play in the 1984 Olympics.

Since then, the foundation has been focused on supporting children's programs, rape-support organizations and, after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, police and firefighter benevolent associations. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation received a $150,000 grant from McGwire's foundation and another $100,000 went to the New York Fraternal Order of Police Foundation in 2001. A total of $276,000 was distributed to like organizations over the years.

In 2002, the first full year after McGwire retired from baseball, his foundation distributed $800,000 to 15 organizations, most notably $150,000 going to the Boy Scouts of America and $100,000 to The Rape Foundation in Santa Monica. The Department of Ophthalmology at the University of California at Irvine and the Huntington Valley Little League received $75,000 each.

In documents reporting distributions for the past two years, only $79,000 was donated to organizations, all but $1,000 of it going to programs benefiting children.

"We weren't a revolving door," said Milner, McGwire's personal business manager and the foundation's chief financial officer. "If we gave up the money that came in, we wouldn't be around today." Milner stressed that neither he nor McGwire, the only remaining officers listed on the foundation's tax filings, was ever paid for his work.

So how has McGwire's foundation "redirected" its mission, as the former slugger promised it would?

McGwire has "fulfilled his word," Milner said. "Mark has instructed me to do some initial things."

He noted that the foundation has made two donations to anti-steroids-related education. One might have gone to the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Milner would not confirm the donation, but did say that McGwire sympathized with Donald Hooton, Taylor's father, after he made his impassioned address before the congressional hearing.

In an interview with ESPN.com this month, Hooton said his foundation has accumulated $1.1 million in donations since the hearing. Major League Baseball announced in August that it had donated $1 million, and Hooton said a $15,000 donation was made by one of the players who testified with him in Washington, D.C.

Asked by ESPN.com which player had made that donation, Hooton said he needed to consult with the player's business manager before identifying the donor. He later said the donation was made anonymously.

"The donations are a nice gesture, but the money is the easy part," said Garibaldi, whose son Rob played baseball at the University of Southern California, in part because he idolized McGwire, who played there in the early 1980s. Rob Garibaldi, though, was dismissed from the team for behavior problems related to steroid abuse, and he later committed suicide in a car parked down the street from his parents' home.

"He needs to be a role model," Garibaldi said of McGwire, "talk about his experiences and set a good example for kids."

Fingers pointed everywhere

When the TV strobe lights went out as the final gavel fell on the House Government Reform Committee's hearing on steroids, so too, it seems, did the resolve to follow through on pledges made that day on Capitol Hill.

Since the hearing, Major League Baseball has instituted a more stringent drug-testing policy, one that already has identified nine players who have been found with traces of performance-enhancing drugs in their systems. Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, one of five current and former players who sat on the panel back on March 17, sat out a 10-game suspension in August after testing positive earlier this year.

Committee members took it upon themselves to conduct a probe into the matter, interviewing league officials, teammates and friends of Palmeiro by phone in an attempt to determine whether Palmeiro might have perjured himself during his testimony. Apparently, none of the congressmen has picked up the phone to see how McGwire has followed through with the pledges he made that same day.

"No one has heard from McGwire," Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) told ESPN.com. But he admits that he hasn't followed up with McGwire on his offer, either.

Said William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), as he wrapped up his questions back on March 17: "Mr. McGwire, I wish you had taken this opportunity to actually answer some of these questions about your career, about the records that you established."

After the hearing, Clay said he wanted McGwire's name removed from a highway in St. Louis. Yet when ESPN.com sought his comment for this story, Clay relied on his own spokesman to defer comments about McGwire to the high-ranking members of the House Government Reform Committee. But a committee spokesman said neither Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee chairman, nor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was available for comment.

"Anyone involved with the hearings has accountability to the citizens of our country and kids learning from the mistakes of these athletes," said Paul, the crisis management expert. "If you don't follow up, you are not doing your job."

The Senate Commerce Committee has called the commissioners and players' union heads of the four major professional sports leagues -- Bud Selig and Donald Fehr of baseball, David Stern and Billy Hunter of the NBA, Gary Bettman and Ted Saskin of the NHL, and Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw of the NFL -- back to Capitol Hill this week to discuss whether the sports' existing drug-testing policies effectively deter athletes from using performance-enhancing substances. Absent will be any of the players who appeared before the House Government Reform Committee's hearing on steroids, as well as the congressmen who questioned them.

McGwire is slated to make his first public appearance since the congressional hearings this weekend, when he will appear during ceremonies commemorating the final regular-season series at Busch Stadium, the soon-to-be-demolished home of the St. Louis Cardinals. According to a Major League Baseball official, McGwire is expected to simply jog out to the first-base line and wave to fans as the public-address announcer introduces several prominent former Cardinals players in a pregame ceremony.

A league spokesman said an official has recently spoken with McGwire, but he was unable to confirm whether there was a discussion of using McGwire as a spokesman in the league's future anti-drug initiatives. An official with the MLB Players Association said the union had not spoken with him either.

In July, MLB and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America launched a $10 million commercial campaign against performance-enhancing drugs. The public service announcement shows the body of a Roman statue flaking away as an announcer talks about the dangers of such drugs.

The organization did not seek out McGwire, according to Steve Dnistrian, executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Out of the hundreds of commercials the nonprofit organization has created over the past 18 years, Dnistrian said it has rarely used spokespersons in the advertisements.

Back on Capitol Hill last spring, politicians resolved to hold the feet of athletes, and the leagues that make money off them, to the fire of public opinion and accountability. In the end, their resolve resembled the breakdown of the deteriorating Roman statue.

Darren Rovell is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.