Would you trade places with A-Rod?
Right now. Today. Would you trade places with Alex Rodriguez if it meant inheriting not only his $400-million bankroll, but also his reputation?
That’s the catch, by the way: You have to trade places with A-Rod as is. You must inherit the good with the bad. You can’t say you would do things differently. You can’t say you would be upfront about your use of PEDs. You can’t apologize and move on. His decisions would be your decisions. His cover-ups would be your cover-ups. His lies, his tantrums, his fits—all yours. Biogenesis, Anthony Bosch, alleged death threats—yours. The needles, the lozenges, the creams, a soiled reputation—yours. A legacy forever shadowed by the word “cheater.” Yours.
$400 million dollars and the guarantee that you and your children and your children’s children would be set for life. Also yours.
That was the question being debated on Mike and Mike the other day as I crammed in an early morning run before work and imbibed my daily quaff of ESPN Radio. The night before, 60 Minutes aired their controversial, two-part investigation of A-Rod and the whole PED scandal. Needless to say, the foul affair dominated headlines and airwaves as reaction to the program’s allegations flooded the sports world. (And now this column. My apologies.)
For eight solid miles, Mike and Mike posed the question to each other and to the listening audience. For eight solid miles, people texted, Tweeted, emailed, and called in their answers.
Would you sell your reputation for A-Rod money? Does your name have a price tag?
The responses alternately plunked in one camp and then the other.
Heck, yeah, I’d trade. Who cares what others think?
I couldn’t do that to my family name.
For $400 million, we’d deal with it.
Mike Greenberg (the Mike who did not play in the NFL) said he’d like to think that he would turn down the money.
“I can’t imagine ever putting my kids in a position that they would be embarrassed of me,” he said. “I can’t imagine someone saying to my son, ‘Is that your dad?’ and my son feeling ashamed of me. I can’t imagine doing that to my kids. I’ve always wanted them to be proud of me.”
“But,” Golic responded, the devil’s advocate, “what if your son could say, ‘Yeah, that’s my dad. He’s a jerk. Now let’s go get on my private jet.’”
By the end of the run, the question, “How can you put a price on your reputation?” was repeatedly countered with, “How can you put a price on being able to provide for your family?” At times, the idea of exchanging a moderate income earned honestly for an exorbitant net worth gained fraudulently was almost martyrized: “I’d sacrifice my reputation to give my kids the world.”
In other words, the end justifies the means.
Moral relativism, of course, leads us down a very messy road. So, you’d sacrifice your reputation for $400 million. What about half that? Would $200 million be worth it? What about $100 million? $50 million? $15 million? When would it not be worth it? Where would you draw the line? How would you define that line to your kids (on whom, of course, this noble argument hinges)?
“Son, I’d cheat to give you $15 million, but not $14 million.”
You can see how quickly things get ridiculous.
What was interesting, however, is that while every argument under the sun was made both for and against the switch with A-Rod, every single one was contingent on the opinions of others.
“I wouldn’t want my kids to be ashamed of me.”
“My kids would get over it for a few hundred million dollars.”
“I couldn’t stand to have my reputation marred.”
“I don’t care what other people would think. I’d have the bank account.”
Not once did anyone bring up the issue of personal integrity. No one asked the question, “Could you live with yourself?” Forget the kids. Forget the masses. Forget the media. Would you be able to handle the guilt of knowing that you cheated?
As I ran and listened to the rather convoluted discussion, I couldn’t help but think of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the guilt of a crime committed drives the protagonist mad, eventually compelling him to confess in a tortured frenzy: "Villains!... Dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!"
Guilt, even hidden guilt—no, especially hidden guilt—is awful, cruel, and insupportable. Why did no one talk about that? Have our consciences become seared? Has our morality become compartmentalized? Have we turned into a nation of consequentialists?
I know. This is getting a little deep for a running blog. But we runners spend a lot of time on the roads. We spend a lot of time alone. We have a lot of time to think. Sometimes we think about the ridiculous. Sometimes we think about the very serious.
And sometimes we think about A-Rod.
The irony of the whole Mike and Mike conversation is that exactly one week after the debate in question, our country celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Of course, one of Dr. King’s most revered quotes is from his “I Have a Dream” speech:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
The world of sports has proved to be a glorious, historical arena for breaking down barriers. From Jackie Robinson to Babe Didrikson, sports have transcended ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, culture, and politics to unite people from every background. What society may try to tear apart, shared passion for the colors on a jersey binds in fanatic unison.
But Dr. King’s statement had two parts. The first was to eliminate prejudice. The second was to elevate character. The world of sports has come a long way regarding item number one.
But item number two?
The problem with the A-Rod debate was that personal integrity was never considered. The debate wasn’t about character: it was about perception. What if they had taken the “getting caught” factor out of the equation? Would there even have been a debate? What if the question instead had been, “Would you trade places with A-Rod if you knew that no one would ever find out?”
Integrity is not dependent on consequences. Honor cannot be bartered. A good name doesn’t come with a price tag. Character is what you do when no one is looking.
Sports hold a unique position in our world. They exercise great influence on our society. They impact the development of younger generations. They reflect the state of our culture. They celebrate diversity. They have forged paths in pursuance of Dr. King’s dream to eradicate prejudice.
May they also not forget his call to higher character.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.