New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez has been up at bat in many pressure-filled situations. Once in a while, he came up big with a big hit; but more often than not, he either popped up or struck out.
However, A-Rod has never faced the kind of pressure he did this past week when he had to communicate with his back against the wall in an interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons. As the world knows, A-Rod had tested positive for steroids in 2003. It was supposed to be a secret, but in the media/internet dominated world that we live in, virtually all communication and information has the potential to become public.
A-Rod had a chance—a rare chance—to communicate a clear, convincing and contrite message. He needed to apologize unequivocally. (See last week's column on the art of apologizing at stand-deliver.com) He needed to communicate that he took full responsibility for his actions without pointing a finger at anyone else. He needed to exude body language that was sincere and genuine. Instead, by any reasonable standard, A-Rod dropped the communication ball big time.
One of the biggest communication flaws A-Rod exhibited was he talked way too long. He rambled well beyond any clear message or point he had prepared for the interview and as a result said things he wished he hadn't. A-Rod kept looking off camera (losing direct eye contact never looks good) to be rescued. He looked nervous and fidgeted, which didn't help his delivery.
Further, A-Rod's communication wasn't credible. He said he wasn't sure what exactly he had taken over those three years. "To be quite honest, I don't know exactly what substance I was guilty of using." Huh? How could you apologize and say you are deeply sorry if you are not even sure what you are apologizing for? How could A-Rod say he took something to gain an edge, but then say he wasn't sure what it was—over a three year period? Any professional, whether in baseball or business, must communicate in a credible and believable fashion. A-Rod struck out in this area.
The other problem in Alex Rodriguez's communication is that he got caught in a big lie. A couple years earlier when Katie Couric of 60 Minutes asked the question; "For the record, have you ever used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing substance?" A-Rod gave a one word answer; "No." She followed up with; "Have you ever been tempted to use any of those things." A-Rod replied, "No." He later elaborated saying; "I've always been a very strong, dominant position. And I felt that if I did my work as I've done since I was, you know, a rookie back in Seattle, I didn't have a problem competing at any level. So, no."
When asked by Gammons why he lied to Couric, A-Rod said something about not being honest with Couric because he wasn't being honest with himself. What? He further explained that he hadn't expected the question in the 60 Minutes interview so he was unprepared. Professionals of all stripes have to anticipate the worst possible scenario and in an interview expect the most challenging questions. Further, solid communicators know that everything they say in the media becomes part of your permanent record.
A-Rod communicated the message that he didn't even know that he tested positive in 2003, but was told by a players' union rep that he might or might not have tested positive. You mean for 5 ½ years A-Rod never tried to find out what the truth was?
Finally, it took A-Rod at least 24 hours too long to speak out in public. Alex Rodriguez decided to communicate in this very public venue to clear his name and to get a fresh start. However, what he did was create more confusion, controversy and questions. Simply put, A-Rod stuck out in a clutch.