Over at ESPN New York Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand talk about Alex Rodriguez‘s rebound 2015 and the fact that he was not involved in any controversies or snafus in the past year. And, of course, rather than merely note it and note how that is different than the past, they decide to be cynical and skeptical about it and ask whether or not Alex Rodriguez is “truly a changed man.”
Not just from a P.R. perspective, mind you. They seem to each suspect, on some level, that A-Rod is still using performance enhancing drugs. Here’s Marchand:
The other thing that can’t be ruled out is how the heck did he do it last year? I mean, two hip surgeries, his 40th birthday and basically two years of inactivity and A-Rod was great for three-quarters of the season. My mom taught me a long time ago, if it is too good to be true, it usually is. That said, maybe A-Rod was doing things on the up and up — but at this point, it would be naive not to at least wonder if he still had some extra help.
Unfortunately, baseball and all professional sports have made this dirty bed for themselves and it’s not only naive, but irresponsible for us as journalists not to suspect hanky-panky when an athlete of an advanced age does something it seems unlikely he would be able to do. I’ll give Alex the benefit of the doubt on 2015, but would be very surprised if he were able to remain healthy all season and produce like that again in 2016.
A-Rod has a drug history, obviously, and if he were to be caught using again it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing ever. But at the same time this sort of exercise is pretty distasteful. And it is undeniably ignorant and cynical.
Who cares if A-Rod is “truly a changed man?” Even if we do care, who can really know? As I said yesterday, we never can really know these guys so personally so as to say whether they truly are bad dudes or good dudes. We can only see what they do, we only see very little of what they do and we can only talk intelligently about what is public and what is known. If A-Rod is caught with a U-Haul full of HGH next week, fire away. Unless or until that happens, what are we really doing here other than laying the groundwork for a big “I TOLD YOU SO!” later? Or rehashing some old stories about the guy in order to cast some new aspersions? “Put up or shut up” is a cliche, but it’s a pretty damn useful one, especially when it comes to a person with whom the press has a decidedly arm’s-length relationship and about whose life they really don’t and can’t know.
More broadly, was A-Rod Satan incarnate as a result of what we knew he was doing before? No. Are other players who are not publicly revealed to have been involved in controversy Archangels? Certainly not all of them. We think we know these guys because they play sports on our TVs a couple hours a night and talk to the press for five minutes, but we don’t. We don’t know these guys and certainly don’t know everything about them. The same can be said of any and all public persons, from Alex Rodriguez to Pope Francis to Bill Cosby to everyone in between. In almost no cases is one’s public-facing persona who they “truly” are.
But still we judge. Or at least the Matthews and Marchands of the world do. It’s a negative feedback loop fueled by heavy helpings of ignorance, predispositions and myopia. It’s a process fueled by the belief that a person’s athletic exploits say something critical and important about their character. It’s a process fueled by the belief that an athlete’s good deeds or transgressions are bellwethers of their character, which is not at all the case unless those good deeds are not offset by equal transgressions or unless those transgressions are truly vile.
Ultimately, of course, this process is fueled by a belief that if a columnist flaps their lips about these sorts of things with respect to a person who is famous enough, readers will flock to it.
At least they’re right about that last part. Which is why, even though things would be much better if we simply watched sports and commented on what happens and opined on what about these athletes is both relevant and known, there will always be those who try to dig deeper. Who play armchair psychiatrist/psychic an in effort to validate their predispositions or to cast aspersions on those they simply dislike.