Line of truth starts behind McGwire

Big Mac had been living the Big Lie. Until Monday.

Monday is when the weight of all those steroids and HGH vials, all those syringes and all that guilt was finally lifted from Mark McGwire's shoulders. Monday is when he admitted -- five years late, by the way -- what we suspected all along: that he used performance-enhancing drugs during large portions of his career, including his now fraudulent 70-homer season in 1998.

"I wish I had never touched steroids," McGwire said in a statement to The Associated Press. "It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era."

That's nice, except that McGwire didn't just play during the steroids era; he was one of the leading men of the steroids era. He did so knowingly, brazenly and, until now, without remorse. One of the strongest men in baseball was one of the weakest when it came to doing the PEDs deed.

Still, McGwire deserves credit for at last going public with his steroids use. Would he have made the same confession if he hadn't been hired recently as the St. Louis Cardinals' hitting coach? Would he have remained quiet if spring training didn't begin next month?

Don't know. Don't care.

"I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come," McGwire said.

That's because it's hard to live your life in the alley shadows. After years of self-imposed seclusion, McGwire is back in the light. The question now becomes: Who will follow?

McGwire's body, his power numbers and most of all his pitiful performance at the congressional hearings in 2005, screamed PEDs use. But McGwire wouldn't -- or, as he said in his Monday statement, couldn't -- come clean during those hearings. Why, we have no idea.

His then-record-breaking 70 home runs in 1998? Cheater's numbers.

His career 583 home runs? Forever compromised.

His Hall of Fame chances? Perhaps improved with his confession, but he would never appear on my ballot if I had a vote.

McGwire cheated the game, the fans, the memory of Roger Maris and himself. It is admirable that he stepped forward and admitted his wrongdoing, but it does nothing to change the essential facts. His accomplishments are forever scarred by scandal.

What his announcement does best is give us a chance to forgive. It also serves as a Garmin for other disgraced players living in those same PEDs shadows.

Barry Bonds? Time to lose the anger and publicly admit that your freakish frame and home run numbers were PEDs-assisted.

Sammy Sosa? You and McGwire were pilot and co-pilot of Fraud Airlines in 1998. Time to follow Big Mac's lead one more time.

Roger Clemens? What better time to quit pretending that the only Clemens to take PEDs was your wife, not you.

They say the truth will set you free. If so, McGwire is no longer tethered to the guilt he has felt for years. In his shame, there is also redemption. Not a bad deal.

Much like Tiger Woods, McGwire pretended to be something he wasn't: an American sports hero. Now, in the weirdest of ways, he becomes truer in 2010 than he ever was in 1998.

McGwire owed baseball an apology. Apology accepted.

Bonds, Sosa and Clemens owe the game a similar apology. By finally taking the truth plunge, McGwire gives them, and other players, the perfect opportunity to make amends. Consider it the McGwire Amnesty Plan.

Will Bonds, Sosa and Clemens be smart enough to recognize McGwire's sacrifice? Doubtful. Bonds is too stubborn and arrogant, Sosa too tone-deaf, Clemens too delusional.

Still, McGwire's admission is significant because it moves us toward closure on the steroids era. Before McGwire's statement, we were stuck at second base. Now if Bonds, Sosa and Clemens surprise us with the truth, maybe we reach home.

It isn't too late. In fact, this is the window the PEDs users should want to climb through. McGwire took one for the steroids and HGH team. A private person made a public admission that created seismic readings in the sport. The other cheaters should take advantage of his cover.

Monday is the day the Big Lie became the Big Sigh. You can sense the relief in McGwire. He confessed to St. Louis' loyal fans, to his former manager Tony La Russa and to MLB commissioner Bud Selig. It was the hardest thing he ever did -- and the best, too.

"After all this time, I want to come clean," McGwire said.

Here's hoping he isn't the only one.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.