It was a Sunday night in late September when Dan McLaughlin was arrested in Chesterfield on a drunken driving charge for the second time in 13 months, an incident that left him embarrassed and in legal trouble and put in peril his many jobs — the most high profile of which is the lead television play-by-play voice of the St. Louis Cardinals.
But now, nearly two months later, McLaughlin views the arrest almost as a blessing. He said it has led him to realize he is an alcoholic and seek the treatment he says might have pulled him off a route that could have led to his death or the breakup of his family that includes his wife, Libby, and four children ranging in age from 2 to 6.
In a wide-ranging conversation with the Post-Dispatch that lasted nearly three hours, McLaughlin fought back tears numerous times while discussing an array of topics related to his situation. They are his first public comments, other than a written statement, about such matters.
He’s wearing an ankle bracelet that will notify authorities if he consumes alcohol, something he said he put on before a court-ordered edict took hold because he wanted to prove to his family that he is serious about sobriety. He has lost weight since the arrest in September, perhaps 20 pounds, and said he began to attack his alcoholism by entering an intense two-week rehabilitation program the day after he was released from jail. And he says he now spends a minimum of five hours a day attending meetings or talking to a support person in his effort toward recovery.
“I’m truly sorry,” he said. “I thank God every day that I didn’t hurt myself or anybody else because of my stupidity and a totally selfish act. While (the second arrest) is one of the worst nights of my life — I don’t expect people to understand this, but it has turned out to be one of the best things that ever could have happened to me because I realized I needed to seek help.
“I’m an alcoholic, and I’m not ashamed to say that because I needed help in a bad way. Through what’s happened, it’s turning my life around. That’s the truth.”
He indicated that he considered the first of the two DWIs as an isolated incident, something that could happen to a lot of people who drink.
“I didn’t think I had an issue,” he said. “But after the second one, I realized that there was something serious that I needed to address immediately. I was going down a terrible path and I didn’t want to lose my family. It was just rock bottom.”
He said there is a history of alcoholism in his family, with some rough times in the past, and that has hit home hard now.
“Knowing what it can do, I used to say I’d never do this to my own kids, and I never, ever want to do that to them,” he said, adding that he now realizes he might have been headed in that direction.
“I felt I let so many people down who believe in me, from family to employers,” he said. “I hope I get the chance to show everybody that you can deal with this disease and try to attack it and be the best person you can be.”
His attorney, Jim Towey, said McLaughlin’s court case has been resolved and that this time he was convicted on the drunken driving charge.
Towey said that led to McLaughlin being sentenced to 90 days in jail, though he was put on two years’ probation instead. Towey also said that other conditions include McLaughlin’s driver’s license being suspended for a year; a $1,000 fine; the requirements that he perform 100 hours of community service, complete an outpatient alcohol treatment program and wear a device that detects if he consumes alcohol; not being allowed to possess or consume alcohol during the probation; and attending weekly meetings regarding his alcoholism.
“Dan has got his focus where it should be now,” Towey said. “The first time was, ‘We’ll save his license.’ This time around it’s ‘We’ll save his life.’ It’s a much different focus.”
McLaughin, after his arrest in late September, was suspended indefinitely by Fox Sports Midwest, his employer for his Cardinals telecasts. He also had been working part time as a sportscaster at KMOX (1120 AM), from which he said he also remains on indefinite suspension, and said he opted not to pursue college basketball broadcasting assignments that he has had in the past from ESPN, the University of Missouri and the Missouri Valley Conference because he wants to direct all his attention to his alcohol problems.
“There is no amount of money that can replace for me personally being sober and being with my children and my wife the way that I should be, in the right condition,” he said, adding that he has not worked once since the arrest in September. “While my jobs are important, there’s nothing that can replace my precious children and my wife — nothing. I resigned from those winter jobs because I wanted zero distractions (that might have) prohibited me from doing what’s most important and that’s my sobriety, and from that comes a good family life.”
Fox Sports Midwest officials continue to review the situation, most likely with input from the corporate level. While not wanting to talk in specific terms, an FSM official said a decision about McLaughlin’s status probably will be made soon.
McLaughlin was asked by the Post-Dispatch if he deserves to be back in the Cardinals booth, then thought long before answering.
“I don’t necessarily know if I should, because I hold a position of which I represent not just myself but many,” he said. “I respect those people and I understand this is a very hard decision for them. I can only hope for forgiveness and the chance to turn a very bad circumstance into a tremendous positive and to gain their trust back.
“If I’m lucky enough to get my job back — and I know that’s a big if — I hope that people can look at me, the people who struggle with this disease every single minute of every single day, and say, ‘If that guy could do it, I can, too.’ I would want nothing more than this to be a story of inspiration and hope for those who deal with this, because many don’t understand just how hard this is. I’d really like to say that if I can keep my sobriety, which is a struggle, if people can look at me and gain a sense that they can do it too … there is hope. I’m living proof of that.
“To have my job back, it’s completely out of my control. And if they fire me tomorrow, I’d have nobody to blame other than myself. This is nobody else’s fault. It’s completely mine and I take full responsibility for it.”
After his DWI arrest last year he said, “I made a mistake. I learned from it. It will never happen again.”
But it did happen again, and he is making no such vow now.
“I don’t expect people to read this and say, ‘God, he’s cured,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not just employers, it’s everybody (who) I have to show every day that I’m taking the right steps to battle this disease and to battle it aggressively. As I’ve learned, this is day by day. There are no guarantees. I’ve got to hope and pray that (employers) see what I’m doing and have faith in me. The people who make those decisions whether or not I keep my job have been more than employers to me. They’ve been very supportive in my recovery, that’s all I can ask.”
The most logical first step for his return to work would be at KMOX, possibly in January, then FSM for the Cardinals — should he be retained by either. And while his status at FSM remains under review, KMOX operations director Steve Moore said management at his station is receptive to McLaughlin returning.
“We’ll be glad to sit down and talk to Dan when he’s ready,” Moore said.
But McLaughlin still says the most important thing is to first stabilize his personal situation.
“I’m in no rush” about work, he said. “I haven’t given it a ton of thought.”
THE BIG PICTURE
McLaughlin, 37, has been in the Cardinals’ TV booth for 14 years as he evolved from a 24-year-old phenom. He also has taken on so many moonlighting jobs that people in the business often joke about McLaughlin never having seen a microphone he didn’t want to grab. So with his FSM salary and the multitude of other work he said he has saved enough money that he can make it through some lean times if necessary to provide for his family.
“Let’s just say I’ve been fairly frugal along the way,” he said, chuckling, in one of the few lighthearted moments of the lengthy conversation.
In fact, he said he now realizes that it was time to cut back on all the work anyway, that his current situation has emphatically made him realize the importance of being with his family.
“In all honesty, during this time I’ve thought about so many things in my life that I don’t want to say I diminish my jobs but these things trump the importance of a job – getting healthy, getting right with my family,” he said. “At some point I have to put food on the table. But when you weigh it, job vs. family and my health, health and family are going to win out a hundred out of a hundred times.”
He said his drinking never carried over to his work, that he didn’t consume alcohol before going on the air.
“Never,” he emphatically said. “Not once.”
But although he wasn’t imbibing before working, he indicated his overall performance could have been affected by his general condition.
“With my jobs I should be sharper now, because I’m feeling physically and mentally so much better than I was,” he said. “I would hope that would translate into being the best whatever I will be doing.”
He wants to stay in sportscasting, and that involves a lot of travel, which leads to easy temptation — late nights, hotel bars, colleagues who like a drink after work, etc.
“It’s all over the place,” he said. “It’s incumbent on me, whether I’m at home or on the road, to work on my 12-step (treatment) program. There are meetings all day, at all times. I’ll have to find them.”
McLaughlin’s arrest in September came just as the Cardinals were completing their miraculous comeback from a 10½-game deficit in late August to make the playoffs, and happened after he had his last Cards broadcasting assignment of the season. His stint in rehab coincided with the playoffs, then the World Series games were played at night, when he was attending meetings related to his sobriety. So he said he saw little of the team’s momentous run to the championship. So the guy who had the most Cardinals play-by-play assignments on TV this season rarely watched their postseason action live.
“If they had been played at 3 in the morning I might have been able to watch,” he said. “But I have my priorities, and that is to get better.”
He was invited to ride on a broadcasters’ float in the parade downtown that celebrated the Series title, and took the trip with his 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter (his wife stayed with their 2-year-old twins, a boy and a girl) and said it was an exhilarating event for him.
“It wasn’t uncomfortable at all,” he said. “I had a chance to see a lot of people I haven’t seen since the incident. A lot came up, gave me a hug and said they support me. That was unbelievable, having the experience of being able to do that with my kids was something I’ll never forget and I know they won’t forget.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
If there is a lesson to be learned for McLaughlin, he said, it’s that he has become keenly aware of his condition and the long road that awaits.
“This is something I’m going to deal with the rest of my life,” he said. “There’s not a point where I’m going to say, ‘I’m fixed’ because clearly this is something I’ll have to work at every single day. You never beat alcoholism.”
And he said he’s not looking for sympathy.
“I put myself in this position, this is entirely my fault,” he said. “Anything that comes my way, good or bad, if I lose my job I brought that on myself, it’s nobody else’s fault. To people who read this, this may seem crazy but I’m the happiest I have been in years because I’m sober and I continue to aggressively address an issue in my life that maybe down the line could have killed me, through alcoholism, or cost me my family.
“I’m very contrite, very sorry. I can say that all I want, but I have to show people progress to fans and people who doubt. I fully get it. I can’t fault them for that.
“My whole goal is to stay sober and to do everything in my power to never have a relapse. I’ll do whatever it takes. My employers, fans and family have to have faith in me that it can happen. I’d love this awful situation I put myself in to be a story of redemption, to the extent (that) somebody got their life back together.
“Forget that I’m on my last chance with every job — this is my family, this is my life. That’s the severity of this. What’s been amazing is the support of the people (in the recovery program), people who two months ago I didn’t know and some of them (are) some of the greatest people you’d ever want to meet. I would imagine some will become lifelong friends. We all try to help each other.”
And he summed up his situation.
“Sobriety is No. 1 in my life along with my family,” McLaughlin said. “If I have that, I truly believe things will fall in place. Maybe this (latest arrest) was meant for a reason, to take my life a different direction. I truly believe that, I believe in God.. … Right now, even with everything that’s gone on and the uncertainty of jobs, in certain ways my life never has been better. That’s the truth.”