Weekly Wednesday Standout #33: Alex Rodriguez and Riley Cooper – the Importance of the Initial Response

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After a week of speculation that included a potential lifetime ban from baseball, Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the rest of the 2013 MLB season, and the entire 2014 season. That’s a total of 211 games, just a step below getting a lifetime ban. Rodriguez admitted to using steroids in a 2009 interview from 2001-2003 while playing for the Texas Rangers, this after having denied using them two years earlier (he tested positive twice while with the team).

Rodriguez was a prodigy who broke in the Seattle Mariner’s, became a divisive figure after signing a 10 year, $252 million contract with the Rangers (though it was largely due to the amount), and was the “anti-Jeter” with the Yankees. Fans loved to hold the popular opinion that he never came up big in the playoffs, while Jeter made a name with clutch play after clutch play that lead to titles. The public’s opinion of Rodriguez was cemented by the first positive test. Everything else – the injuries, the contract, now this – seemed like piling on. Rodriguez’s suspension comes on the heels of Ryan Braun’s 50 game suspension for a positive PED, after denying the claim last season. Public perception turned on Braun, who lost a Nike sponsorship in the process.

What do Braun and Rodriguez have in common? Both denied allegations before finally having to own up. Compare their responses with Jason Giambi and Andy Pettite, two players who tested positive for steroids. They apologized, and now they are largely forgotten or forgiven. As Pete Rose says:

We have to get these people to understand that if you make mistakes, people will forgive you if you come forward…Some guys came forward…And they went on with their lives. They’re playing and they’re making good money, and there’s no shadow upon them now

Riley Cooper, wide receiver of the Philadelphia Eagles, made headlines last week for saying a racial slur recorded on camera. The video went viral, and Cooper tweeted “Was wrong and I will accept the consequences”. Cooper apologized to teammates and took a leave of absence to receive counseling. He returned this week and spoke to teammates individually, with many supporting his return. It also helped that teammate and team leader Michael Vick, who himself faced controversy and had to rehabilitate his image, publicly supported Cooper and believed in his remorse and ultimately, his forgiveness.

People make mistakes, but it’s an athlete’s response to the mistake that ultimately determines the public’s perception. As the old saying goes, it’s not the crime, but the coverup.