In life, it’s often advantageous to be selfish. It’s a sad truism of personal advancement. Think about the guy in the office that only pads his own resume, at the expense of helping the team. He’s the one with multiple job offers and an executive salary, while the rest of the team keeps the place running. It’s unfortunate, but too often true.
Few places does that apply more than world of sports, where individuals spend countless hours, days, months, and years, perfecting a unique skill set that is remarkably singular in purpose. Namely, to throw, hit, run, and the like. And the ultimate goal, if you aspire to stay in the game for long, is to do it better than all the other kids who want to do the exact same thing. In sports, it’s more about beating your contemporaries than helping them. And if you don’t believe that, spend some time in an NFL rookie camp or NBA Summer League. It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about stats and highlights.
And that brings us to the remarkable case of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees exiled third baseman who’s fighting the recently levied year-long ban from baseball for taking performance enhancing drugs. This 162-game sentence is revised from the original 211-game suspension levied last year. And from Major League Baseball’s perspective, this is final, a sentiment echoed by A-Rod’s own players association, an odd narrative for American sports’ most powerful advocacy group.
Much of baseball’s case against Rodriguez is based on testimony from Anthony Bosch, the owner of the Biogenesis Clinic that allegedly supplied A-Rod, and a host of other baseball players, with PED’s. Rodriguez and his staff of lawyers largely deny the allegations, which seems to fall upon deaf ears by everyone up to and certainly including baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who’s largely used power uniquely vested in his office to levy the suspension. And if you think he can’t do that, talk to Pete Rose, who’s got more in common with A-Rod than anyone we know.
In most cases, when things like this happen, there’s a sympathetic alliance, a support crew that rallies behind the accused, almost irrelevant of the act. Even when players are accused of crimes – real crimes, not creams and clears – players and fans join the cause. It happened with Ron Artest after his fight in Detroit. It happened with Bounty Gate in New Orleans. Even as New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez stood accused of murder charges, the NFL players union and the Patriots organization and a small group of fans suggested that’s he’s only accused, not convicted.
We don’t hear that rhetoric with A-Rod. There’s less distance between the Yankees and the moon then there is with Rodriguez. Curt Schilling would get a warmer reception in the clubhouse. And the players union noted that while the decision was unfortunate, they did consider the verdict final. That’s from an organization that’s still arguing the 95 strike. They’d advocate for Barry Bonds, and Rodger Clements, and probably Al Capone if he could throw. It’s almost unheard of to be abandoned by everyone – your team, your colleagues, your fans. You half expect his family to join in.
Perhaps this is what happens when you live on an island. In sports, greed is good, necessary even, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. A-Rod crossed that about 10 years ago. He did it when he essentially bankrupted an organization at the cost of his own team. He did it when he forced his way into the position he wanted, regardless of the protocol or politics. He did it when he stayed on the roster when he should of sat out, putting his own ego ahead of the larger team narrative. And he did it when he lied repeatedly to the public, the same public that vested in him, emotionally, financially, and otherwise.
You can get away with that when you’re the best player on the planet, and everyone needs you. They’ll take your narcissism and pettiness. But the minute you fall from that perch, which has happened to A-Rod with his bloated salary and shrinking athletic potential, that penthouse suite gets mighty lonely. This case isn’t about PED’s and sports, not as much as we might think. This is about ego, privilege, and how poorly you treat others, even in a space that typically encourages just that. For more reading, see the book on the former hero known as Lance Armstrong.
A-Rod can think about that for a while, for a full season in fact. Then again, with A-Rod, he’ll probably spend most of that time thinking only about himself.
Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.
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