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A Lightening Rod For PR Disasters: Why Alex Rodriguez Must Go

Aug 12, 2013

It’s fitting that the New York-born superstar athlete Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez who, for a time became a real-world hero to millions of impressionable young children and adult baseball fans, has watched his career unravel in that same city. Rodriguez, a name whose Germanic roots mean “famous power,” is also ironic considering the third baseman’s famous skills of self-creation, self-delusion and self-destruction.

Like Lance Armstrong before him, Rodriquez, aka, A-Rod, has become a lightning rod for controversy about doping in professional sports and the communications response to that fallout.
Last week, a series of mounting PR troubles arguably reached their peak: Major League Baseball hit A-Rod with an unprecedented 211-game suspension (that’s nearly one and a half seasons) after a six-month review concluded that he had used a variety of illegal performance-enhancing drugs over the course of many seasons and had deliberately worked to stymie investigator efforts. Beyond A-Rod, another dirty dozen players were also found guilty of doping with links to the now-defunct Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Miami and all accepted the MLB’s far more lenient 50-game ban.

But A-Rod, in an Armstrong echo, came out swinging – literally and figuratively ahead of last week’s game against the White Sox in Chicago. Despite overwhelming evidence to support his guilt, Rodriguez claimed in a press conference earlier in the day that he was fighting for his life. And on Sunday, Ron Berkowitz, his public relations spokesman tweeted, “Hello Chicago!!! Let’s do this!!! #fighting.”

Equally complicit was the Yankees response. Instead of publicly distancing themselves from the fallen star, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, possibly recognizing that his club was legally stuck with A-Rod for the time being, offered lukewarm support. “He’s here, he’s going to play,” he said in an ESPN article.

As a public relations professional, my questions to all of this hoopla are the following:

  • Where is everyone’s humility? Fighting for your life? You’ve got to be kidding me!
  • Hasn’t professional sports learned anything from Lance Armstrong?  Doesn’t fighting to clear one’s name under the pretense of innocence only further undermine public support?
  • When did getting in front of a news story and managing the flow of information – central to our profession – become an exercise in arrogance?

The last time I checked none of these tenets were in the professional PR playbook. So, A-Rod, since no one in your inner circle has apparently been this candid, let me join the likes of the New York Post and step up to the plate. I echo the sentiment of their “Just Go” front page headline. While I appreciate that some $100 million is on the line for the completion of the last four years of your Yankees contract, an attempt at humility and grace would probably go a lot farther than your recent batting average.

Salvage the public image you have left. At 38, your baseball career is about to be benched one way or another. That doesn’t mean that years from now, some of your reputation can’t be rehabbed. But the path toward image retooling and public forgiveness can’t begin until you publicly and candidly admit your mistakes.

After that, take a break and leave us all alone.

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