Erik Ainge, a pro football player, revealed to an Associated Press reporter last month that he attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
That revelation was part of a broader story about Ainge's mental health and substance abuse problems. The News & Observer published the story, along with a photograph of Ainge, on April 10.
That prompted two local members of Alcoholics Anonymous to educate me about AA's policy of anonymity, which Ainge broke, and then to ask that we not publish the last names of people who identify themselves as AA members.
Alcoholics Anonymous, which has helped millions of alcoholics become sober, considers it important for members to not publicly disclose that they are part of AA.
The group has 12 enduring principles, adopted in 1950, that still guide it today. No. 11 is, "We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films."
Principle No. 12: "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."
AA believes alcoholics should be able to attend meetings without fear of their identity being revealed. No one could argue with that.
But there is disagreement within the group about whether members should be able to reveal that they attend AA.
Most members abide by the tradition. They believe anonymity reminds them to be humble and place the AA principles above drawing attention to themselves. "... No individual AA member may presume to act as a spokesman or leader of our fellowship," AA says.
But increasingly, AA members, like Ainge, are breaking that tradition.
AA member David Colman explained in a recent New York Times article why some members think they should be able to reveal that they are AA members.
"More and more," Colman wrote, "anonymity is seeming like an anachronistic vestige of the Great Depression, when AA got its start and when alcoholism was seen as not just a weakness but a disgrace."
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy also has identified himself as an AA member. "Stigma here is our biggest barrier," Kennedy told the Times, "and knowledge and understanding are the antidote to stigma."
AA this month sent a letter to news outlets asking them not to print the last names of AA members who identify themselves. AA also asked that we not publish photographs in which members' faces could be recognized.
In these two areas, we will not meet AA's request.
AA has a 75-year track record of helping people recover. We are glad to help tell that story. Whether members should be permitted to reveal their identities is a matter for AA members to discuss and decide.
But once an AA member identifies himself, as Ainge and Kennedy have, our only obligation is to report their comments fairly and accurately. We identify them as we would any other adult making public comments.
We typically name adults in our coverage because it adds credibility. You wouldn't have much confidence in stories in which we routinely gave no names or only first names.
Alcoholics Anonymous historically has had a good relationship with the press. Two articles helped the group grow when it was in its infancy.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer published a series of articles and editorials about AA in 1939 that gave the fledgling group a boost. Then in 1941, Jack Alexander of the Saturday Evening Post gave AA national exposure with a powerful story about alcoholism and AA's successful efforts. His story led to a surge of interest in AA.
(Among Alexander's findings: "On one of the most influential newspapers in the country, I found that the city editor, the assistant city editor and a nationally known reporter were AAs.")
In the recent letter, Alcoholics Anonymous cited its long relationship with the country's news outlets, saying that from the beginning, reporters had helped carry AA's message of hope and recovery.
We won't be able to meet AA's request for anonymity in cases in which members identify themselves. But we will continue to carry AA's message of hope and recovery.
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