Tom Trudeau ’09: Lied to me?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

“Hard To Believe.”

That was the headline on the day Alex Rodriguez met with the media to answer questions regarding his use of performance-enhancing drugs. The four accompanying photos showed Rodriguez’s facial expressions ranging from contempt to guilt to shame. We can only speculate what triggered these emotions or whether they are indications that the game’s biggest star was once again not telling the truth, but if you’re the New York Yankees, there are several reasons to be concerned.

Perhaps Fox executives were in cahoots with Selena Roberts, who first broke the story of Rodriguez’s PED use for Sports Illustrated, when they launched their new series, “Lie To Me.” The pilot debuted just in time to help the average person make sense of A-Rod’s dubious shoulder twitches, eye contact, lip movements and eyebrow furrows.

As for the experts, Dr. Paul Ekman, the human lie detector on whom Tim Roth’s character “Lie to Me” is based on, correctly pointed out A-Rod’s fib in his interview with Peter Gammons on Feb. 9 that he didn’t remember which drug he took. Going back to A-Rod’s “60 Minutes” conversation with Katie Couric in 2007, Ekman pointed out A-Rod’s slight, but very noticeable, head nod “yes” when answering “no” to the question of whether he had ever taken any PEDs. Ekman also noticed several involuntary shrugs, generally used to convey something to the effect of “I don’t know,” that didn’t match what he was saying. “I’ve never had a real-world case that I’ve worked on in which, if that’s shown, the person wasn’t lying,” said Ekman.

As for the most recent press conference that left many insiders skeptical at best, logic would say that A-Rod probably told the truth. After all, he was caught, so why wouldn’t he take the opportunity to tell the whole truth, which would give him a clear conscience from here on out and put the issue to rest? That has to be what most normal people would. But Alex is far from normal.

Never mind the fact that he sees a therapist – Tony Soprano and every privileged kid with a concerned mother has spent some time in therapy ­- Alex’s ongoing battle against himself is painfully noticeable. While reports of his struggles in the clutch range from overblown to incorrect when examined empirically, no one who has watched Rodriguez during his four years in New York can deny that he can psych himself out in spite of his immense talent. Those of us privileged enough to see A-Rod play on a daily basis usually agree that he’s the most talented player we’ve ever seen, and yet there are times when he looks completely lost and unsure of himself.

But beyond being a little bit crazy (and anyone who is that good at something has to be a little bit crazy), why would he lie? The man already has a lot on his plate, and I don’t mean a job, a few classes and a thesis. Think the most competitive and talented player on the highest profile team in baseball, playing in the most demanding sports city in the country. His $275 million contract makes him the highest paid athlete in American professional sports (not counting endorsements). So how could Rodriguez add the daily fear that he’ll be exposed for lying to his list of things to obsess over?

A-Rod is incredibly image conscious and cares deeply about his legacy. He has a chance to become the all-time home-run king and break sports’ most prestigious record, which gives him something of a motive to lie. If he eventually hits home run number 763 and passes Barry Bonds, many people could forgive him for three years in Texas when he used a drug called “boli.” After all, there is a big difference between the steroids that turned Bonds into the incredible Hulk and the high powered uppers that Rodriguez claims is all he ever took. Add, say, two years of doping as a Mariner and one more as a member of the Yankees and that potential forgiveness is gone.

Lying or not, what are the implications of A-Rod’s PED use on his future performance? Even if you ignore anecdotes about the way the body breaks down after steroid use, Alex has plenty of hurdles to overcome. He was already among the most hated athletes in sports prior to the PED news, thanks to one part jealousy and one part being a complete jerk. Now he must deal with even more boos and hecklers. He’ll have to ignore critics who say every homer he belts is tainted. If he struggles, he’ll have New York’s merciless media speculating that every out he makes is a result of his diminished talents without the help of PEDs. What if, on top of all that and all his existing insecurities, he’s also wondering if he’ll ever be exposed for lying?

Well, if you’re an A-Rod and Yankee fan like me, you just have to thank God/Cap’n Jeter that he’s really, really, ridiculously good at baseball.

A-Rod blew off Tom Trudeau ’09 four times in the summer of ’06.

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