DAYTON, Ohio -- New York Yankees baseball legend Mickey Mantle was my boyhood hero. I collected all of his baseball cards and memorized every statistic about his performance. I couldn't wait for my Uncle Tony to finish reading the Sporting News so I could cut out articles about the greatest baseball player of my generation, which I then carefully stored in a shoebox beneath my bed.
It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that my boyhood idol was an alcoholic who began drinking at age 20 after the death of his father from Hodgkin's disease.
''I was devastated, and that's when I started drinking. I guess alcohol helped me escape the pain of losing him," wrote Mick in his 1994 Sports Illustrated article describing his 42 years of alcoholism. He lived an unhappy life, overwhelmed with depression, anxiety, family turmoil, and emotionally abusive behavior to the people around him.
I don't cry very often, but I became teary-eyed when I recently watched an HBO special about the Mick. The real tragedy of his life was that his extraordinary athletic gifts were wasted by his alcohol abuse. He entered into treatment in the later years of his life, and I'm guessing he uttered some of the saddest words you contemplate as you enter old age, "I wonder what might have been ... "
Mick's alcohol dependency is unfortunately too common a story. I won't bore you with statistics about the seriousness of this problem, as I guess it has touched most of our lives. The Department of Justice has identified substance abuse as the nation's number one health problem.
With that backdrop, I couldn't help but be repulsed by the media articles proclaiming that "smokers celebrate as Washington legalizes marijuana." Parents shouldn't be rejoicing. They should be terrified that yet another mind-altering drug is becoming readily available to our kids.
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