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Josh Hamilton’s sobriety is not a black and white issue

Feb 3, 2012, 8:25 AM EDT

josh hamilton getty Getty Images

I am far from being any kind of expert on addiction. The vast majority of you would say the same about yourselves if asked in a vacuum.  Yet when a famous ballplayer like Josh Hamilton falls off the wagon like he did on Monday night, so many of us seem to have so many strong opinions about it. Opinions that go beyond our mere reaction to the news.

Opinions about Josh Hamilton‘s character. His “weakness.”  His motivations. His heart.  About the nature of addiction.  Opinions like this one from Jeff Passan of Yahoo!

The worst part about Josh Hamilton’s relapse is that he didn’t care. The most famous addict in sports does not go to a bar in the town where he is best known without full knowledge that his exploits will become public in a matter of hours … The particulars – was he drunk, why did he drink and was he really letting women at the bar grab his butt? – don’t matter as much as the act. With addicts they never do. Sobriety is black and white. Black won Monday.

Passan posted that late last night.  It set off a wave of criticism on Twitter which, to his credit, Passan confronted in an attempt to defend his column.

I think I understand what Passan was trying to get at here — I think he was trying to express the sheer gravity of Hamilton’s acts in stark terms and was doing so not long after the news broke, so there was some emotional reaction to it all —  but I can’t shake the notion that the overall sentiment as expressed in the lead especially and throughout the column as a whole is presumptuous and wrong.

It’s easy for those of us who do not have experience with addiction to frame this as a black and white issue and think of it as Josh Hamilton making a bad choice. But from what I understand from those who know more about this, the essential nature of alcoholism is that, subjectively speaking, the person doesn’t have a choice. Or doesn’t feel like they’re making one at the time. It’s a compulsion. Reason is cast to the wind. It’s the very thing that separates a person who can handle alcohol from one who can’t.

To be clear, this doesn’t excuse the act. The act rains down consequences and those must be dealt with, whatever they are. The addict cannot be allowed to simply say “hey, I’m an addict, not my fault!”  and force everyone else to deal with it. They have to work to regain the trust they lost. They have to redouble their efforts at sobriety. If their transgression was bad enough, they have to accept what comes their way as a result, be it the loss of a job, their friends or their family or whatever else it may be.

But I don’t think it’s at all accurate — or particularly useful — for us to frame this as a morality play. I think it’s understandable that many do it because Josh Hamilton was thrust into being a role model of some kind due to his initial conquering of addiction, and whenever someone is elevated like that it’s easy to see everything that happens later as either a reaffirmation of his greatness in that regard or as a tragic fall.  But I don’t think the long road an addict walks fits that model very well.

The only opinion I can muster here — the only one I think it possible for someone who isn’t Josh Hamilton or someone close to his situation to reasonably hold — is sadness. Projecting one’s healthier state of mind with respect to alcohol and its consequences onto an unhealthy person like Hamilton’s is missing the point entirely.

  1. phillyphreak - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    I think what bothered me most about the Passan article was that he tried to make it a yes or no as if it’s as easy for a recovering addict to say no to a drink or drugs as it is you or I (I understand this makes all sorts of assumptions-I’m assuming it’s really hard to stay sober even if the cons way outweigh the pros).

    Although he confronted it on Twitter, he almost made it out to be the fault of the reader for misinterpreting his stance. If so many people are misinterpreting the article, then it’s probably not the reader’s fault..

    • Kevin S. - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      For what it’s worth, after an extended back-and-forth with Old Hoss, he did say that if people were interpreting it the way Radbourn was, he probably didn’t do a good job conveying his point.

  2. unclemosesgreen - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Exactly so Craig, sadness for Josh Hamilton and also hope for the future that he will keep struggling to keep his head above water.

    The matter of the gap between Accountability Coaches should also be discussed, yes? Apparently the Rangers should move on this with alacrity.

  3. unclemosesgreen - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    Furthermore, if Jeff Passan knew anything at all about addiction, he would know that this kind of act goes beyond impulse control. He can get wasted in private without anyone knowing if that’s what he wants to do. The very exhibitionistic nature of the act makes it come off as more of a cry for help than anything.

    • paperlions - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:47 AM

      That was the first thing I thought….if there was any “safe” (relatively) way for Hamilton to lapse, it would be in public in a place where everyone recognizes him, which should help to ensure than the episode is brief and those that care about him can address the issue immediately.

      Like Craig, I can’t speak to the difficulties of addiction….and I refuse to judge someone that is dealing with something I can’t possibly understand.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:32 AM

        Even an addict should be wary of thinking they know what Hamilton is going through or thinking right now as every single person’s brain is wired differently. Every person regardless of addiction thinks in a different way. Individuality exists in everyone, everyone has individual thoughts and feelings. I’d only feel safe commenting on this topic right here if I were to speak to Hamilton directly myself and KNOW what’s going on in his head. I’m just glad he did reach out to a friend who did come to his aid.

      • annes22 - Feb 3, 2012 at 2:42 PM

        I know something about this addiction debate. My son is an alcoholic, and I can tell you that he graduated college with 2 degrees at Christmas and a week later was completely “smashed” for 4 days. When I speak to him about it, he knows what he should do, but something happens to their brain, and they have to have a drink for no reason. One drink is all that is needed before it’s a complete disaster. He says he has no idea why he has to do it, but he can’t handle birthdays, holidays etc anymore. He has been in rehab 3 times, and it works for a while, but their brain is not the same as a person who can drink sensibly.They do lose their friends, don’t want to go out, and certainly don’t want to go near a bar. Very seldom will he come out to dinner with us, it’s just a miserable existance and I feel bad for Josh Hamilton that this has happened again for him. Being in the public eye has to be much worse, I just hope he has some help right now, because he needs it.
        get it together” soon again.

  4. pestiesti - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    But from what I understand from those who know more about this, the essential nature of alcoholism is that, subjectively speaking, the person doesn’t have a choice. Or doesn’t feel like they’re making one at the time. It’s a compulsion. Reason is cast to the wind. It’s the very thing that separates a person who can handle alcohol from one who can’t.

    I think that is exactly what Passan is trying to say. When you are an addict you are either sober or your are not sober. You can’t really get more black and white than that. The whole not caring thing is I think Passan’s attempt to express what you’re saying about addicts not feeling like they are making a choice. Passan was inartful, but I don’t think he was wrong.

  5. themistokles81 - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    How about the fact, that he has to live with the knowledge that a father died in front of his son because of a foul ball he threw into the stands. Im sure that would drive anyone to drink. For him i cant imagine the struggle he is going through to stay sober.

    • antlerclaws - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:54 AM

      Yeah, the whole incident with the father dying in front of him has to still weigh on him. To most of us, it was a news blurb, remembered only for a few days. To him, I’m sure he’s re-lived it in his mind thousands of times, he was right there, an instrument in a man’s death, even if it was just a terrible freak accident, and seeing the man’s crying son led away. That would drive a lot of people to drink. We can never know what demons may or may not haunt Josh Hamilton.

    • ThatGuy - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      This is exactly what I thought of when I heard this. During the season, they are so busy with a set schedule and everything, the whole weight of it was probably shifted a bit. Now with 3 months off and plenty of time to think, its not out of the question that it contributed to his falling off the wagon. Obviously thats pure speculation, but it is what popped in my mind.

    • jimbo1949 - Feb 3, 2012 at 4:17 PM

      Yeah, and everyday you go to your workplace there’s a statue staring at you.

  6. illcomm - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Passable is an idiot. The nature of addiction and relapses usually happens at a place near your home. God bless him and the demons he has inside him. My prayers go out to you Josh. Stay strong.

  7. woodenulykteneau - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    Of course, knocking Hamilton off a pedestal that he never deserved (or asked) to be placed upon is worth noting. But we can’t have any of that complicity in the media, can we?

  8. yuazda - Feb 3, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    He’s being criticized for the use of “care” and for good reason. It simply can’t be explained to someone who has never coped with addiction. I had a few relapses that were nothing more than me telling myself I didn’t need to drink and wasn’t going to drink, then walked in my door after work and poured myself a drink, all the while wishing I wasn’t doing it and feeling completely helpless and remorseful WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING. It can’t be explained. You can call it a moment of weakness, but that doesn’t pain an accurate picture.

  9. brian1413 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    People that have not been through this don’t understand how tough it is. I went 6 years without a relapse and one day it just happend. You feel horrid afterwards. It’s tough when things get stressful because it’s such an easy way to make the hurt go away. He is in the spotlight and maintaining sobriety as a nobody is tough I cannot imagine what it’s like for him. Hang in there Josh the you lost a battle but in the end if you keep fighting you’ll win the war.

    • annes22 - Feb 3, 2012 at 2:48 PM

      Good for you Brian. My son still has to go more than 3 months and he has another relapse.
      It’s a horrible illness, and I have now watched it for 4 years. He’s been through rehabs, he knows
      what to do, but you know it just happens in a moment. I have a problem with people criticizing alcoholics when they have no clue what it’s like to be one. One drink is all it takes.
      good luck to you.

  10. rooney24 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    With million$ of reasons to stay straight, he still had a slip. Maybe he went to the bar to drink specifically knowing that people would find out and get him help. I do worry about how this will play out when his playing days are done and he doesn’t have the millions to worry about and the team hired handler/coach to try to help keep him on the straight and narrow. Best of luck to Josh to get back on track and stay there!

    • brian1413 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:06 AM

      I agree why else would you go to a bar where you know you’ll be noticed it to me was a cry for help. Plus he called Kinsler I think this was more a cry for help than anything else.

  11. nightrain42 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    The bottom line is….this must give the Rangers some pause about risking a long term contract

  12. randygnyc - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    I knew that there was a lot of trouble in Josh’s personal life when his father in law withdrew from being Josh’s oral chastity belt. I speculated that his marriage was in trouble and that he’d soon be off the wagon. I’d be shocked if this was where he ended his sobriety. Unfortunately, addicts don’t normally use/drink after they just happen to find themselves in a bar. It usually happens when things in their life spiral out of control and the drinking is just a byproduct. IMO, Josh has lots of problems, including marital, contractual and now sobriety.

    • paperlions - Feb 3, 2012 at 12:01 PM

      Good for you. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good opinion. These sound like tweets from a wife that is definitely having marriage problems:

      “Truly appreciate all the encouraging & supportive tweets we’ve been getting”

      “God is Faithful and forgives — so thankful that you all are”

      “Showing us such love and encouragement during this time”

  13. badmamainphilliesjamas - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    I will ALWAYS listen to those who have experience in this area over those who have only opinions.
    Craig’s post is thoughtful, and acknowledges that he has more questions than answers. Passan discredited himself when he imputed motives to Hamilton (“he didn’t care”)–always a dangerous business.

  14. sknut - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Sobriety is black and white, but the decisions that go into are not. I have struggled with addiction and in the moment you can convince yourself of anything to rationalize the behavior. Nobody should judge Hamiltion for drinking again, that doesn’t matter at this point, he just needs to have his close friends and his faith at his side. Like many of you have said I hope this isn’t a symptom of a larger problem. And it would be foolish to try to analyze what one single event led to this as its not that simple in my opinion. My thoughts and prayers are with you Josh keep fighting the good fight.

  15. yankeesgameday - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Going out in public to drink was a shout for help from the top if the mountain. I believe Josh knew he would be recognized – how could he not – and he was probably praying that someone would see him and stop him from drinking entirely.

    Josh needed a buddy and he went looking for one while fighting his disease. But “the most famous addict in Dallas” only found people wanting to party with a guy who they knew has terrible addictions.

    Being in public had to be his last line of self defense, but it didn’t work.

  16. dfletc2 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    Bravo. Beautifully written and thought out article. Just…. Bravo.

  17. thefalcon123 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    “It’s easy for those of us who do not have experience with addiction to frame this as a black and white issue and think of it as Josh Hamilton making a bad choice. But from what I understand from those who know more about this, the essential nature of alcoholism is that, subjectively speaking, the person doesn’t have a choice. Or doesn’t feel like they’re making one at the time. It’s a compulsion. Reason is cast to the wind. It’s the very thing that separates a person who can handle alcohol from one who can’t.”

    Excellent point that applies to all addiction. 47 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Everyday, they spend money on a product they know will kill them *and provides essentially mental or physical health benefits*. It doesn’t even get you high! (the perceived stress relief from smoking is actually just the relief of a nicotine craving). Virtually no one who smokes, or is addicted to heroin thinks it’s a good idea. They either A). Think they don’t have a problem and can stop any time, or B). That this time WILL be the last time. Of course, then the next time is the last time and so on…

    Odds are, Hamilton made a series of mental bargins with himself, decided this would only be a one time thing and spent the entire night having a big “what the fuck are you doing” argument in his head. And I bet he feels awful and frightened today. I hope this really is the last time.

  18. chris6523 - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    When I think about alcoholism or drug addiction, I thank God that I haven’t had that happen to me. I think the author of the original article is an arrogant ass and should stick to writing about things he is not completely ignorant about. Frankly, for someone like Hamilton, there are probably days when the compulsion to drink or use drugs is nearly impossible to resist. I don’t for a minute believe Hamilton went out and had drinks because he didn’t care or because he is arrogant. He did it because on that day, for whatever reason, the lure of alcohol was too much for him to overcome.

  19. largebill - Feb 3, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Hamilton doesn’t come judge me when I’m drunk. So, I’m not going to pass judgment on him. If he isn’t driving or hurting people it’s none of my business. The people involved in his life and helping with his recovery can decide how to respond to this situation.

    Now, as a baseball fan I would want my team’s GM to carefully consider Hamilton’s history (injury as well as personal problems) before making him a free agent offer. He’s a tremendous talent, but only a fool would ignore the risk of unreliability.

  20. frankvzappa - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    Alcohol was still controlling his life even in sobriety. He will be much better off if he can handle having a few beers every once in a while without letting the booze control him one way or the other. It won’t be some huge deal all of the time. Just be a man and control yourself, it’s that simple.

    And anyway, maybe the Rangers would have tried harder to win the World Series if they knew they had a champagne shower to look forward to, instead of tiptoeing around the fragile delicate sensibilities of JH with sparkling cider or whatever the hell they would have used.

    And for the record, if journalists needed licenses, Passan should have had his revoked for that garbage he posted.

    • thefalcon123 - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      “. It won’t be some huge deal all of the time. Just be a man and control yourself, it’s that simple.”

      What…the…huh? You seem to not understand very much about the nature of addiction. There are many factors that go into it, including a genetic factor. Yep…some people are *far* for susceptible to addiction strictly based upon their biological makeup. It’s not nearly as simple as “just be a man”. It’s a compulsion…something that sits just below the surface of your mind every single moment.

      I’ve never been addicted to hard drugs or alcohol. Though I did spend 10 years as a smoker. Though the short-term stakes aren’t *nearly* as high, cigarettes are extremely addictive. When you’re trying to quit, the withdraw process is very, very unpleasant. You feel terrible, can’t sleep, can’t focus *and every single moment, you know just a one cigarette can make it all go away*. The strong urge to drink or do hard drugs sticks with you much longer. It can appear, you can’t stop thinking about, you feel terrible and you know, just KNOW, you can go have one drink and make all of that stop.

      If you know anyone who an alcoholic or drug addict who has stopped completely, they are already more of a man than you because they’ve already accomplished something far more difficult than you ever have.

      • frankvzappa - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:25 AM

        Ive been addicted to all sorts of things, so I can say whatever the hell I want about this subject, thank you very much. I smoked two packs of marlboro reds a day for years, and I was addicted for years after college to much worse than that. I havent had a sip of hard liquor in over half a decade but am able to enjoy beer when I want without going overboard, so all of you high-horse riding d-bags can just shut up now.

      • frankvzappa - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:27 AM

        And for the record, I left my personal history out of my original post because I figure nobody gave a damn, but since you attacked me personally I felt compelled to respond.

      • thefalcon123 - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:53 AM


        So…you go the alternate route. IE, “well, if it worked this way for me, this is how it works for everyone!”. Congratulations on having such a simple time beating addiction. If this is how it actually worked out for you…just “being a man”, then you are an extreme rarity amongst addicts, not the norm.

    • Sean Boulton - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:18 AM

      “Just be a man and control yourself, it’s that simple”? “…maybe the Rangers would have tried harder… if they knew they had a champagne shower to look forward to…”?

      To paraphrase the old Mark Twain saying, congrats on opening it and removing all doubt.

      Wow. I mean, just wow…

      • frankvzappa - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:33 AM

        C’mon, that comment about the Rangers was pure hilarity. If you didn’t think that was funny, then I am not sure what you believe qualifies as humor. Maybe you should go see the latest Adam Sandler movie or something…

        And furthermore, I regard Mark Twain much too highly to have people like you debasing his memory by using his quotes to attack people who don’t think exactly as you have been brainwashed to think.

    • paperlions - Feb 3, 2012 at 11:12 AM

      Oddly enough…what Passan wrote isn’t nearly as ignorant as the garbage you wrote.

      • frankvzappa - Feb 3, 2012 at 11:22 AM

        I’ve been working so much lately, and what with the offseason and all, I almost forgot how much fun it was getting a rise out of all you guys.

      • paperlions - Feb 3, 2012 at 11:29 AM

        Just be a man and decide to stop being an ignorant jackhole….it’s that simple.

    • owenpoin - Feb 3, 2012 at 1:56 PM

      I’m going to partially stick up for frank z. here My reaction to hearing that Hamilton was seen drinking was that there’s maybe an 85% chance that’s bad news for all the obvious reasons. I also thought of a friend who was an alcoholic and into hard drugs for years, then spent the next few years not touching anything except cigarettes and coffee, and only recently has started to have the occasional drink again. I’m not in his mind, but it seems like the occasional drink (assuming that’s what it is), is a sign of increased stability, not decreased. I don’t know if that’s the case for Hamilton, but I don’t know that it’s not. Again, it’s probably bad news, but I don’t think any of know for sure.

  21. burgundyandgold - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    As a friend of Bill W. myself I know this to be a complicated issue. I have had one relapse in my 8 years of sobriety. When I did I made sure I would be caught by my wife because I knew if I hid it, which I could, it would destroy me. Moments of weakness catch all of us and if I ever fall off the wagon again I hope I have the foresight to be stupid enough to get caught again.

  22. dsimp724 - Feb 3, 2012 at 10:41 AM


  23. detroitcityryda - Feb 3, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    If you haven’t been addicted to alcohol, ciggarettes,pills,or any drug then you should not comment anything negative about this man

  24. kingjoe1 - Feb 3, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    Alcohol won’t kill him, it is heroin which is the real danger.

    This overreaction to a person with a drinking problem having drink is precisely why so many try to give up drinking on their own, without help. Once you say you have a problem starts watching as though one drink will kill a little baby in Sweden. Lighten, and help people learn that they can live without it, but never act as though one drink automatically puts them back at square one.

  25. poseidonsfist - Feb 3, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Passan is a fantastic writer when he writes about issues that allow for time to be well researched, prepared and measured. In my opinion, his greatest weakness is reaction pieces to big news. He jumps at being first to get bold reaction out there. He did the same last offseason to the Tulowitzki, claiming it was a terrible choice for Tulo to forgo potentially being Jeter’s heir. But it can’t be a mistake to forgo that opportunity if Tulo would never want that anyway. Passan realized that and wrote weeks later his conclusion was wrong.

    Here, again, Passan is putting himself in A player’s shoes. His own desires, knowledge and feelings. It isn’t equitable.

    As an aside, it is possible for an alcoholic to recover and enjoy an occasional beverage without ever relapsung. But especially with his history of an addictive personality beyond alcohol, I wouldn’t bet $20 million on it, much less $100 million.

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