Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Apologizing for Steroid Use is Just Smart Business

Add me to the small list of people not gushing over the apologies of some of these steroid users in baseball. Not because I think it is an unforgivable sin (I am not even sure it is one at all), or that they don’t feel really really bad about how all of this went down, or even than they want to turn public opinion around to make their lives easier. The fact of the matter is, apologizing makes smart public relations sense. In a game where millions of dollars are at stake and a player’s appearance to fans matters as much as their production on the field, public opinion is everything. Denials do nothing to ingratiate a player to their fan base, while a tearful (almost, but not enough to actually cry and thus appear weak), sincere reconciling of one man’s past with his present, splattered all over the most high-coverage venue his agent can find.

I believe this all started with Jason Giambi and his kind-of sort-of acknowledgement that he took steroids. After that, there was no story. Unless someone wanted to pry out who he got them from or how prevalent it was in the sport (far less juicy stories than the one-man drama), there just wasn’t a story there worth devoting resources too. Moreover, as a fan there is only so much hating you can do. After he has admitted it and come clean, it feels awkward to lash out and rip him for it, like the kid in school who would drop his books and laugh about it- what left is there to make fun of? Andy Pettite took this to a whole other level. He has garnered not only forgiveness, but it appears even that people forget that he took steroids at all. His lengthy, heart-wrenching (it had that impact on me, I will tell you) apology and press conference, in addition to his reputation as a stand-up individual just nullified any negative publicity he had received in conjunction with the steroids scandal.

Compare this to Roger Clemons, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, et al. Their denials have just made suspicion turn into certainty, and made them villains in the eyes of many baseball fans. How different this situation might be if Roger Clemons had said that he “briefly” took steroids because he was feeling pressure to succeed and felt like he needed the edge, but after a year or two he stopped because he got his life back in order. Whether that is true or not is a moot point. The fact of the matter is that by admitting a small offense he is canceling out the larger offenses described by Brian McNamee. Barry Bonds might be the only exception to this, as he was known in the media as a bad character and not a man you wanted to be around anyway. However, even he could have held an interview where he “bore his soul” for the camera and talked about his tough exterior and how lonely he feels underneath and how the only way to make himself feel special was to go out and break records. Would you feel the same about Barry after that apology?

Which brings us back to Alex Rodriguez, and the possible fall out for Miguel Tejada. Scott Boras has seen this pattern, and he knows what happens to those who deny compared to those who confess something -anything- for the camera. I am certain that he told A-Rod that the only way out of this to salvage his reputation was to bear all in an interview that would not be as hard on him than one with the major networks. NBC News, 60 Minutes or even Dateline would have looked to fry him and put him in a real tough spot, but ESPN was going much softer than they could have with Peter Gammons. Boras is a smart man, and he did his client a huge favor by guiding him in the direction of apologizing. Do I believe it? I have no idea, I just know it is good business sense.

It has yet to be seen what this means for Miguel Tejada, but if I was his agent I would have one piece of advice- confess, and make it sound awfully sincere. Not even prosecutors would have the leverage to send him to prison after that.

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