Saturday, February 28, 2009

Free Advice for A-Rod

Okay, I know I'm a little late weighing in on the A-Rod story, but it took a couple of weeks for inspiration to strike. I believe I have the absolute solution to solving his public relations problems, and if he doesn't take my suggestion, I think it is advice from which any active elite athlete could stand to benefit (sorry Barry, it's too late for you).

The problem confronting Alex Rodriguez is that he is now defined by his use of performance-enhancing drugs. His identity is now inextricably linked to this scandal. And simply put, nothing he does on the field will overshadow this. Even if he were to somehow break Barry Bonds' single season home run record it would probably arouse suspicion that he is back on the juice. And he would likewise be better off not breaking the all-time record, either, as that would again result in more negative publicity than positive. And if he tries to take solace in team achievements, well, he's the highest paid player on the highest paid team in baseball, and winning World Series is what he is supposed to do.

The way it stands now, when people play word association with "Alex Rodriguez," the answer is "steroids," and there is nothing he can do with a bat in his hand to change that. So in order to redefine himself, he needs to do something off the field, something so big that it would make everyone forget his sordid past. Now, if all he cared about was getting people to forget the steroids, his task would actually be pretty easy. All he would have to do is walk to home plate during a game buck naked, or send Madonna out to field his position wearing his jersey, or practice self-immolation in front of the Babe Ruth monument. But I get the impression that A-Rod not only wants us to forget the steroid use, he also wants to be liked (and to continue living). So this makes his task of making an off-the-field splash a little tougher.

If he could solve the economic crisis, Middle East unrest, or global warming, it would probably be sufficient to make people forget the steroids. But he thus far hasn't shown much in the way of messianic tendencies. He could put on a cape and go out fighting crime, but people would probably think he is back on the juice. More practically, he could work tirelessly for charities and donate large sums of money to good causes, but this would underwhelm the public. After all, he isn't making much of a sacrifice in donating even a few million. But wait a minute, at what point would a charitable contribution be enough to make people notice? At what point would the public, when playing "A-Rod word association," think "noble philanthropist" instead of "A-Roid"?

My answer--when he decides to give it all away. He is due about $238 million over the next nine years. Imagine if he were to come out and say, "You know what, I don't deserve to take another penny from this game. What I have done is inexcusable, and though I don't think this makes up for it, the only way I know to say that I am truly sorry will be to take the money that is due to me over the next nine years and donate it all through my foundation to people who truly need it. A significant amount of that will go toward the cause of preventing steroid abuse by young people. Meanwhile, I fully intend to continue to pursue my professional baseball career, but I will play for one reason only, my love of this great game."

Some would undoubtedly call this overly-romantic thinking. While I admit the unlikelihood of my scenario, I don't think it is romanticized. In fact, I think a cold cost/ benefit analysis would reveal this to be a good move. First, the guy already has made about $200 million playing baseball. Even after taxes, and yes, whatever divorce settlement he made, he already has enough to live a life of ease and luxury the rest of his mortal existence. Second, the public relations swoop would be fierce. Seconds after making the above announcement, Scott Boras's switchboard would be flooded with offers from Madison Avenue (and Hollywood). Hey, he never said anything about not accepting endorsement money. Third, he would solve his public relations problem. And last and least, he'd never have to worry about the temptation of trying to live up to his new contract.

But as I mentioned previously, this type of P.R. opportunity is not just open to A-Rod. Imagine if when LeBron James's contract is up after next year he says, "I care more about winning than about money. I'm willing to play for the minimum if the Cavs take the extra dough and sign D-Wade." Such a move would forever cement him in the court of public opinion as "The Most Competitive/Unselfish Athlete Ever." He is already called King James, but he truly would have a royal status in this country. And even if he had to give up a few bucks for that distinction (assuming he wouldn't turn a net profit after added endorsements are factored in), what is the value of such an honor worth?


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