Of Braun and baseball and coming clean the first time, not when you’re nailed

Ryan Braun blew his chance. Now he’ll have to live with a legacy of fraud.

So writes Jerry Crasnick on ESPN.com. He’s right too.

Braun, suspended by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig from the Milwaukee Brewers for the rest of the season, is the latest screwup in Major League Baseball.

Ryan BraunHonestly, I don’t know that much about him — I stopped following MLB regularly after the McGwire-Pettitte-Palmeiro-Clemens-Bonds [this could go on forever] era. Give me Bill Buckner’s humanity any time. [And thanks to Tom Brede, who works on public affairs in EMA’s Rochester office, for noting this teachable moment.]

As a professional in crisis, Braun’s acknowledgement yesterday of his punishment rang false, as Crasnick recounted:

Not long ago, Braun was perceived as a future face of baseball — a telegenic and articulate slugger with fan and media appeal in abundance. The first crack in his veneer came in December 2011, when ESPN reported that he was under investigation for elevated levels of testosterone.

Braun fought his 50-game suspension and won, and I was there on that blindingly sunny February day in Maryvale, Ariz., when he stepped to the microphone and expressed righteous indignation over his plight. “I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point,” he told the media. And if you’re inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, you accepted his explanation despite your reservations and were willing to move past it.

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression in a crisis. If Braun had admitted when he was first challenged on the issue of using performance enhancing drugs that he had, he might have salvaged his reputation and fan standing.

Now, he’s just a bum, like all the others. A thief for cheating.

Is baseball or any other sport ever going to be 100 percent clean? Unfortunately, no. Do some players (e.g., Mark McGwire or Andy Pettitte) use PEDs because they lose their self-confidence in the face of injury issues or declining performance and are desperate to regain their edge? Sure. Do fringe players feel compelled to partake because it’s the only way they can continue to compete at the highest level? Of course. Like it or not, when you throw money, morals and America’s national pastime into one big pot, you get a steaming bouillabaisse of competing interests and contradictions.

Many people have compared Braun to Lance Armstrong, who assembled a long list of lies and obfuscations and steamrolled everyone in his path during his lengthy career as a championship cycler and PED denier. Braun will also elicit comparisons to Rafael Palmeiro, who became persona non grata with a single ill-advised finger wag before a Senate hearing in 2005.

For a liar caught in the vice of a crisis, only telling the truth — right then will give you enough credibility with the public and your peers to begin to reconstruct your reputation. Repeated denials only make the eventual truth-telling more of a beat down.

…in baseball clubhouses, lots of Braun’s peers filed the [December 2010] incident away for future reference. Over the past few months, I’ve heard Braun’s name mentioned by his fellow players and gotten the obligatory eye-roll that’s typically reserved for A-Rod and a select few others who are too polished, slick or consumed with their own self-image for comfort.

As I sat down to write this story, I received a text from a former big leaguer who was active for several years in the union and at the forefront of the effort to stamp out PED use.

“I never bought his denial last year, so I’m not surprised,” the player said. “He’s very smart and very calculated. There’s no way this happened to him by any sort of accident.”

You get one chance to tell the truth. Facts fast. Or you’re going down.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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