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Hank Aaron Forgives Mark McGwire

Mark McGwire acknowledged Monday what was long suspected - that he took steroids. But it might have been as much catharsis as admission.

"The horse had been out of the barn a long time ago," said Gary Wadler, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). "For those of us who follow steroid abuse, it seems like no one would be very surprised at this revelation."

McGwire's admission pleased others who wanted him to come clean, including former home run king Hank Aaron. "He has my forgiveness," Aaron told USA TODAY. "If that's all that stands in the way between him being inducted into Cooperstown, we should all forgive him."

McGwire, who broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record with 70 in 1998, acknowledged the use of androstenedione when it was spotted in his locker by an Associated Press reporter in 1998, but andro had not been banned by baseball that season.

"I thought all along andro was a great cover-up," Wadler said. "People say, 'Well, he's on andro.' Well, did it ever occur that this was a great cover-up for the hard stuff he was taking?"

Many close to McGwire held out faint hope he hadn't used steroids. Until Monday.

"Deep down inside I was hoping there was really no truth to it," said Dave Stewart, a former Oakland Athletics teammate. "I'm definitely not mad at him. I love Mark McGwire. He's a great human being, and he was a great teammate."

Tony La Russa, McGwire's former manager who hired him as the St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach, had long stood behind McGwire. It wasn't until McGwire informed La Russa on Monday, La Russa said, that he had knowledge of McGwire's steroid use. Sandy Alderson, former general manager of the A's, said he never asked McGwire if he used steroids, also believing he was clean.

McGwire for the first time on Monday called Don Hooton, who started a charitable foundation to fight steroids after his son Taylor's suicide. He said McGwire had made significant donations to his foundation and Hooton hoped now for a public alliance.

"Mark can be a very powerful spokesman with the kids," Hooton said. "Now that he's gone through the valley better than anybody, he can speak with authority to kids why they should not get involved with the stuff to begin with."

McGwire wanted to divulge his secret, he said, before coming to spring training. He was hired in October to become St. Louis' hitting coach after being out of the game since his retirement after 2001.

"This statement of contrition," Commissioner Bud Selig said, "I believe will make Mark's re-entry into the game much smoother and easier."

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