I HAVE ADVICE for the 100 or so major league players who reportedly are on a list federal investigators have indicating they tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Come clean.

Fess up.

If you know you are on that list, tell everybody now, say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness.

It's the best way to get some semblance of control of a situation that is going to spiral out of hand.

It's the best way to create damage control, shorten the shelf life of this story and save yourself months of aggravation.

Your names are going to get out.

Forget about the rules you thought you were playing under in 2003 when the players union agreed to testing. Your deal included anonymity, but now you have been thrown a nasty curveball.

Federal investigators have battled in federal court to obtain the names of the 104 players who tested positive and they are reportedly preparing to question all the players about how they obtained the substances found in their urine samples.

Eventually, all of those players are going to be identified.

It might come in the form of a trickle, or the dam might burst.

The names could be included in court documents that would become public record or they could be leaked to the media.

By hook or by crook, the public will find out who the users are, and that's the best reason for any guilty party to step out of the shadows.

It's the smart move. It's the one that will cause the least damage to your reputation and allow you to move on from this the quickest.

If there is one thing we know about the cult of celebrity in America, it's that most of the public is more than willing to forgive you.

We want to forgive the transgressions of our star athletes, actors, musicians and other celebrities.

We are looking to accept the alternative explanations to the evidence that is sitting clearly in front of our face if you can entertain us by running faster, hitting the ball farther, slapping the puck harder, jumping higher.

There are just a few caveats we ask for - admit your mistake and indicate that you want forgiveness.

"I'm sorry" is one of the shortest, yet most powerful, sentences in the world, especially when it comes from someone who has been placed on the pedestal of the elite.

What if Barry Bonds said, "I'm sorry," when the mountain of evidence from the BALCO investigation pointed to him using performance-enhancing drugs?

Of course, Bonds would have taken some heat, but he wouldn't be the baseball pariah he has become by continuing to deny what the evidence shows.

Yankees slugger Jason Giambi testified before the same grand jury as Bonds. When Giambi's name leaked out, he apologized without specifically saying what for, and ultimately was hailed as a stand-up guy.

Giambi's sort-of-admitted drug use is hardly mentioned anymore.

Bonds is unemployed and his Hall of Fame status is in jeopardy.

Andy Pettitte admitted he was injected with human growth hormone by personal trainer Brian McNamee, and sort of said he was sorry.

People bought his excuse that he was only trying to recover from an injury so he could get back to help his team, and he was praised for his honesty - even if it was after he got caught.

Roger Clemens, who was also pegged as a user by McNamee, sneered in the face of the public, the media and Congress. He defiantly said everyone was wrong but him.

He jumped on a high horse and dared anyone to challenge the pristine image he projected.

Now, almost every day a new skeleton bone falls out of Clemens' closet and he, like Bonds, is a pariah and his Hall of Fame induction is on the line.

It would have been so different if Bonds and Clemens had just said they were sorry and asked for forgiveness.

Without question, some of us get a twisted enjoyment when icons stumble, but most of us know they are human.

So when they do the human thing and ask for forgiveness, we normally grant it.

That's what these 100 players who will inevitably be identified need to remember.

Tell the truth now and say you are sorry, even if deep down you are sorry only that you got caught. *

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