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Thursday, March 21, 2002
The lesson: Be careful when and how you lie

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

If you've been keeping up with Jeff Kent, Rebel Without A Straight Story, you've found out that despite the rumors, the Giants' second baseman is actually quite an agile car washer.

Jeff Kent
Jeff Kent is too valuable to the Giants for even the most ridiculous truth to get him in trouble.
Well, that's comforting, anyway.

The disturbing part, though, is that in trying to explain his broken wrist, Kent failed to grasp the greater lesson, and will be haunted by it for some time to come, because we intend to be the ones haunting him.

Said lesson: That one should never tell a lie that can't do him or her any good.

This isn't the standard Sunday School/daily ethics class stuff, we grant you. All you kids out there should never ever lie, no matter what the consequences. We're serious here. Don't try this stuff at home.

But because adulthood involves a certain amount of hypocrisy (and amounts vary according to local law and custom), we can also cut to the chase here and say that lots of adults lie.

The trick, as it is in any adult-level endeavor, is to be able to decide what lies are worth telling, and what lies aren't. This is a deeply personal matter, one upon which we will not presume expertise.

But we know this: Every lie is a twenty-dollar bill, and the more lies you tell, the more you pay. If you lie about everything, you're broke before you know it.

Thus, if you have to lie, the lie not only has to be believable, but it also has to be worth the trouble.

And Jeff Kent, who is old enough to know better, apparently lied very badly.

It isn't because he is new to the joys of mendacity. By concocting the car wash story, he obviously had given his story some thought. To hide the fact that he apparently had been playing fast and loose with local vehicular laws, he cooked up the car wash story -- presumably because once he got his raft of abuse for not spending the $9 it takes to machine-wash a truck, he figured the story would die.

But he didn't like the abuse he was catching for the car wash story, thereby giving it legs it didn't really deserve, so intrepid Bay Area reporters dug up what seems to be the new truth -- that he was popping wheelies on his motorcycle, fell off, and had someone from the Giants' organization dispatch a van to pick up his bike.

Bad lie, all the way around. He could have gone with, "None of your business; now get away from my locker or I'll set you on fire," a popular choice among the modern athlete. It might have annoyed reporters into digging up the truth anyway, but there wouldn't have been those car wash jokes.

Jeff Kent
Second Base
San Francisco Giants
Profile
2001 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R SB AVG
159 22 106 84 7 .298
He could also have gone with, "I fell off my damn motorcycle while riding like an idiot."

His better choice would have been "B," for the simple reason that the Giants wouldn't have needlessly annoyed their cleanup hitter by docking him a few thousand bucks, and even if they did, it would have been chump change. They weren't going to invalidate his contract, because they don't have anyone who can do what Kent can do. Sports people are nothing if not pragmatic.

But the first lie was too ridiculous to go unchallenged, and the truth as it presently stands might not be the truth, either. I mean, who can tell any more?

For all we know now, police report or no, witnesses or no, this story may be as flabby as the first one. He might have broken his wrist joyriding a circus elephant. He might have broken his wrist standing on the roof of a Circle K wearing only a pinwheel hat. He might have broken his wrist feeding venison into a grinder for a family barbecue.

He might have even broken his wrist falling off his truck while wash ... oops, already tried and failed.

See, kids? A perfectly useless fib that only made the real story worse than it needed to be.

So here's the lesson. If you break the bay window playing catch ... if you shave the cat without permission ... if you take Dad's motorcycle and pop wheelies and end up breaking your wrist ... consider not the value of the truth, but the quality of the lie. Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Is the punishment for doing something stupid at your house worse than the punishment for lying about having done something stupid?
  • Is the lie going to make you tell other lies just to make the first lie stand up, knowing that very few kids are that good at the finer points of lying?
  • Is the lie so good that you'll be able to share the story with your kids in 20 years without them looking at you and saying, "Jeez, Dad, you were such an ass when you were a kid"?

    And if you're an adult, ask yourself this one. If you tell a lie you don't have to, will you have enough credibility left when you really need a good whopper?

    So take it from Jeff Kent, kids and adults alike. Use your lies carefully, tell them with a pure heart, and be so good at it that nobody will ever discover that you lied in the first place.

    Either that, or try the truth. People always fall for the truth, no matter how momentarily ridiculous it might seem.

    Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.