Make Alex Rodriguez out to be the worst deny-till-you-die drug cheat since Lance Armstrong. Go ahead. Skewer and belittle baseball’s most prodigious power hitter since Barry Bonds until he’s shamed into an Oprah-esque public confession. Or until, like Bonds or Roger Clemens, he just disappears into the ether, ineligible to be believed.
But after the outrage over his continued deception, detailed by “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, consider the gamble A-Rod lost Saturday when 162 games of his 211-game suspension by Commissioner Bud Selig for performance-enhancing drug use were upheld: A guy who just five years ago shed tears at a news conference over why putting syringes and pills into his body was only a recipe for ruining his career, not for helping it, could not stay away from the stuff.
According to the “60 Minutes” report, Rodriguez wanted to become the first 800-home run hitter in the history of the game — so badly he was willing to throw it all away again.When the arbitrator’s decision came down Saturday, A-Rod didn’t lose credibility; he already had none. He didn’t lose a chance at a bust in Cooperstown; his 2009 admission of steroid use would never let the purists vote him in. He didn’t even lose trust among his Yankees teammates; they knew.
Knowing his past admission of using performance-enhancing drugs would compound any future suspension, knowing Anthony Bosch and his Biogenesis clinic could become baseball’s next Balco if found out, Rodriguez still rolled the dice for no other reason than he wanted to be more famous than he already is.
That’s not just deplorable hubris and unchained arrogance; that’s addiction.
The more the rationale behind PED use by Lance, Marion Jones, Mark McGwire and others is made — that their circles of trust were merely dishonest users themselves or serfs who looked the other way — the more I don’t think these people need to be further shamed and made out to be the lousy human beings we’ve made them out to be.
The more defiant Bonds, Roger Clemens and A-Rod become about hiding their truths and maintaining their innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence, the more I think they need to help each other recover from whatever hole they have in their soul that keeps them lying, cheating and stealing from the games they competed so brilliantly in before the Winstrol, the EPO and the HGH started coursing through their veins.
Financial consequence doesn’t work with these guys. Public shame doesn’t work in many cases. A highly compensated mental health professional may not be enough help to approach the level of deceit and betrayal and the size of the egos that get in the way of their truths.
These athletic heroes who keep defrauding our senses — cruelly tricking us into believing what we see is authentic, man-made performance — might need each other more than they realize.
They have support groups for families of veterans, anxiety, widows and beyond. There is Debtors Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Marijuana Anonymous. There is Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Alateen — three sub-support groups of the original Alcoholics Anonymous.
But there is no sparsely appointed room where elite athletes sit in a circle of chairs and open up about what made them rationalize putting syringes and pills into their bodies so they could steal money and fame from their peers, how they lost so much in life and their professions for making those Faustian bargains.
I mentioned this in passing last August when A-Rod was originally suspended. But as he keeps sticking to his story of being persecuted by Selig, it’s clear that hard facts and logic are not going to break him.
Short of a family intervention, he needs to hear someone in his peer group be vulnerable about using performance-enhancing drugs and how it deeply hurt that person’s life.
There is no genuine circle of trust for these people, where their secrets are kept and where they can help to break the cycle of believing they need drugs to sustain their legacies and incomes.
It’s admittedly a utopian idea involving major personal sacrifice to pull off. And the notion of anyone observing disgraced drug cheats, from world-class sprinters to prolific home-run hitters and the most dominating pitcher of his generation, traipse into a vacant church basement for support flies in the direct face of two realities:
1) Most superstars rarely ask anyone who can’t improve their athletic performance for help with anything. Their livelihoods have been built on the idea that they can push through and do it on their own.
2) Envisioning a guy who only refers to himself as “Lance” tell Barry and Marion “Thanks for sharing” would make it hard-pressed to call it an anonymous support group.
Still, maybe they Skype or FaceTime each other from across the country. Anything to form some genuine connections instead of the inequitable relationships most have in their life with people who profit off of them.
As A-Rod ratchets up his cries of innocence, as more than a dozen other suspended players have served their Biogenesis suspensions and everyone but Rodriguez knows he’s guilty, it’s clear these subspecies of uber-athletic humans have no one to come clean to except a judge-and-jury public — some of whom are still angry they could never hit the ball that far or date Kate Hudson, Madonna and Sheryl Crow in a lifetime.
These groups aren’t for everyone, I know. But someone like Rodriguez, who will soon lose $25 million and his goal of 800 home runs because he thought he could game the system again, needs a teammate now more than he ever did. Someone to tell him about Step 1: Admitting You Have A Problem.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.