A-Rod proves clutch again in crisis
Unlike other big-name stars, Alex Rodriguez admitted to taking PEDs
Asking for forgiveness is a wise PR move for the tainted star
A-Rod still left questions unanswered about what he used and why he started
Alex Rodriguez made clear Monday that one thing still separates him from Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, from Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire: he's smarter.
He saw Bonds and Clemens hide behind denials, daring the federal government to come and get them. He saw Palmeiro wave his finger at congressmen. He saw Sosa practically forget how to speak English in the Rayburn building. He saw McGwire turn into a parrot who was "not here to talk about the past."
Like any good hitter, Rodriguez studied the men who came before him, learning from their mistakes and adjusting accordingly for his turn at the plate.
As public relations strategies go, it is generally wise to look back at every choice Bonds has ever made, and then do exactly the opposite. And so, in an interview Monday on ESPN, Rodriguez admitted that he used performance-enhancing drugs while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001-03, a period in which he hit 156 discounted home runs. It was appalling because he portrayed himself as a product of a "loosey-goosey" clubhouse culture that condoned steroid use. But it was also refreshing because at least he didn't say he took "a tainted supplement." That's how low our standards have sunk.
Rodriguez called himself stupid, sorry, na´ve, negligent and regretful. But most important, he called himself guilty.
For some reason, athletes and their handlers often forget the cardinal rule of crisis PR, which celebrities in every other field seem to know by heart: admit your mistake quickly, apologize for it profusely, and then beg like a dog for forgiveness. Usually, if a celebrity demonstrates any kind of reform at all, the public grants complete forgiveness.
If Rodriguez was anywhere close to retirement, as Bonds was when the BALCO story broke, then maybe he could have denied SI's report that he tested positive for steroids in '03. Perhaps he could have played a couple years under a cloud. But he has nine years left on his contract with the Yankees. Nobody, not even Bonds, could play nine years under that cloud.
"When you take this gorilla and this monkey off your back, you realize that honesty is the only way," Rodriguez told ESPN's Peter Gammons, 15 months after he told CBS's Katie Couric that he never used a performance-enhancing drug. "I'm finally beginning to grow up. I'm pretty tired of being stupid and selfish, you know, about myself. The truth needed to come out a long time ago. I'm glad it's coming out today."
No matter how many sweet nothings he says, he is still going to have a brutal spring and a brutal season. His legacy is trashed, his Hall of Fame credentials are tarnished, and any records that he eventually owns will be rendered as meaningless as the ones that Bonds owns now. But eventually, he will be able to move on with his life and his career, just as Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte were allowed to move on with theirs. Such is the reward for even the slightest bit of transparency.
It is hard to know if Rodriguez is hiding anything else. Curiously, he claimed that he did not know what kind of performance-enhancing drugs he took, though SI reported that he tested positive for Primobolan and testosterone. He indicated that he stopped taking the drugs during spring training 2003, but it was in '03 that the positive test was administered. He also blamed his steroid use in Texas on the $252 million contract he received from the Rangers in '01, and the pressure he felt as a result. But that did not stop him from opting out of his contract last winter and negotiating an even richer deal with the Yankees, for $272 million.
During those negotiations, Rodriguez showed just how savvy he can be when his image is at stake. After he opted out of his deal with the Yankees, and no other team stepped forward to sign him, he was painted as a traitor and a mercenary. So Rodriguez went running back to the Yankees and announced that he was initiating talks on his own, without agent Scott Boras -- always a convenient scapegoat. Rodriguez came across as a victim who was loyal to the Yankees and misled by his agent, even though Boras still finalized the contract and retained Rodriguez as a client.
Despite all of his struggles in the clutch, Rodriguez is best in a crisis, so it was no surprise that he used Monday's interview as an opportunity to start his rehabilitation. He has hundreds of steps left to go, but he is one up on Bonds and Clemens.
Verducci: A-Rod interview raised more questions than answers