By Chris Simmons
Yesterday, ESPN covered the press conference of Alex Rodriguez (“A-Rod”) regarding his suspension by Major League Baseball (MLB). He is accused, in part, of obstructing MLB’s investigation into player use of performance-enhancing drugs. As expected, the media event didn’t shed much light on anything until A-Rod was asked if he had any regrets over the way things have played out recently. This was his answer:
“I’m sure there’s been some mistakes made along the way. We’re here now. I’m a human being…I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself.” (Source: Washington Post)
What appears to be a very simple response actually contains a wealth of insights.
Trained investigators know that every word has meaning, as does the placement of a word(s) within a sentence and paragraph. A-Rod’s comments actually reveal four very distinct messages:
MESSAGE 1: ““I’m sure there’s been some mistakes made along the way.”
This sentence fulfills multiple roles. First and foremost, it is a statement of fact and as such, a “soft admission” of guilt. [a “hard admission” would be “I did it”]. Pay particular attention to the reality that a soft admission is not quantifiable. It is a mechanism to gently admit guilt without revealing the scope of the misconduct.
A-Rod’s comment also serves as a bridging statement, setting the stage for the transition from his past denials to future hard admissions. This bridge also opens the door to deflecting statements (e.g., “I’ve already said mistakes were made. This is old news”), a useful tool in damage control.
MESSAGE 2: “We’re here now.”
Having made his soft admission, A-Rod hopes to put the past behind him and move on. He seeks to avoid making hard admissions, which generally come with accountability and consequences. In essence, this can be seen as a de facto negotiating position. He sees himself as having taken some responsibility with his soft admission and would like to resume playing baseball without further injuring his reputation.
MESSAGE 3: “I’m a human being…”
The subtle theme here is human fallibility and is intended to remind the audience “we all make mistakes.”
MESSAGE 4: “I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself.”
In a very hard transition, A-Rod justifies and rationalizes his lack of cooperation with the MLB inquiry. He goes from quasi-apologetic (without actually apologizing) to defiant. In these two brief sentences, he makes it clear to MLB that he has no intention of cooperating.