This past week, sports-wise, we had a bit of a truth crisis.
We had Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance—about which he had previously lied. We had the release of a book on Alex Rodriguez—who also previously lied about his steroid use. The book was written by a woman who, while not a liar, plays dangerous games with what’s true. We also had the revelation that Dirk Nowitzki, a likeable and sympathetic NBA star, had been the victim of a long con. His girlfriend is not who she said she was. She took his heart, and was about to take his money before he finally sniffed out the grift and had her arrested. Two days later, to cap off this week of vagueness, Dirk suffered another loss, a playoff victory ripped away by an official’s sketchy call.
Or was it that sketchy? With all this doping and duping, it’s been tough to find the truth.
During the past several days, the hard and fast rules that make sports so quantifiable—and thus so soothing in trying times—spilled sloppily over their boundaries like a cancerous mole. Usually, cheating is cheating. Usually, X is a foul, Y is not. Usually, the out-of-bounds lines are clearly marked. But this past week the configurations that delineate boundaries became as jumbled and confused as a pile of pick-up sticks. So where do you find the truth in that mess?
Case in point: Selena Roberts, the author of A-rod: the Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez. An established, well respected sports writer, Roberts once held court in the New York Times’ stellar sports section and is now a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. Roberts has long been known as an exceptional reporter, her controversial and often misrepresented take on the Duke lacrosse case notwithstanding. She’s the one who broke the story, first reported several months ago, that Rodriguez had tested positive, forcing him to come clean (so to speak).
Like athletes, reporters also work within well marked parameters: Reporters must have reliable sources. Reporters must produce facts that can be substantiated. If a reporter cannot prove something, it should not be published. If she can prove something, it should be published, and then it goes into the record. It becomes the truth.
But in the murky world of steroids and baseball egos, proof is hard to come by. Roberts seems to have encountered this problem during her book research, and that problem seems in turn to have changed what’s true.
Let me explain. Before A-rod was published, the truth that generally had been accepted was this:
1) Alex Rodriguez used steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers, from 2001-2003.
2) Alex Rodriguez lied about using steroids.
3) Alex Rodriguez’s blatant disregard for the rules and the advantage he gained by using banned substances constitute cheating. Therefore, his records and achievements should be erased, or at least have an asterisk by them.
4) Alex Rodriguez is a douchebag.
Then Roberts’ book came out, full of…iffy truths. The book wants so badly to fulfill its destiny as a bombshell, but no one quoted in it wanted to go on record, so the incendiary statements about Rodriguez lack punch. They fizzle and die. A lot of A-Rod’s sentences begin with the phrase “According to unnamed sources…” and a lot of the sentences end with some version of the sentiment, “Rodriguez used steroids,” “Rodriguez cheated,” or “Rodriguez was a big jerk.” Filled as it is with anonymous sources, gossip, and speculation, A-rod is a jumble of blurred lines. The truths are all in-between. That is, we all agree Rodriguez is a douche and a cheater. Those are things we know. Roberts’ failure is that she tries to convince us of something we already know, and the flawed way she does it only obfuscates the clarity we once felt. So all of a sudden, maybe we don’t know—the facts are the same, and yet now they’re different.
As soon as the book came out, for instance, sentiment about Rodriguez morphed from bitter disgust to something resembling sympathy, something like:
1) Oh, sure, maybe he he’s been on steroids, but I’m sick of hearing about it.
2) After all, he’s still really talented.
3) And the poor guy—this crazy bitch has been gunning for him for quite awhile, and now she’s written this smear job of a book.
4) Maybe he ain’t such a bad guy after all.
This is the same guy we all hated before. It’s not like Roberts dug up a bunch of information exonerating him—basically, the gist of her work is something like, All signs about Rodriguez point to the fact that he is even worse than we thought; I just can’t completely, totally prove it. Unable to prove its case, her book has done the unthinkable: It has garnered sympathy for the most hated man in baseball. The book has changed the truth.
So, what gives? How is that possible? Well, part of the answer—part of it—has to do with the fact that Roberts is a woman. More on that in Selena Roberts, Part III, coming soon.