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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Updated: February 20, 3:38 PM ET
A-Rod fails the central question: Did you cheat?

By Tim Keown
Page 2

We all need to get out of the business of myth making. Remember when Alex Rodriguez was going to be the anti-Barry Bonds, the guy who could break the home run record fair and square, and save us from any long-term effects of the steroids era? He was clean, right? He had to be, because we wanted him to be. But he wasn't, and the next guy we ordain might not be, either.

So here's an idea: Let's try a new approach. Let's get out of the guessing business. Let's stop trying to divine what's inside someone's body and, in the case of Michael Phelps, what level of maturity or judgment might reside in someone's brain simply because he won a pile of gold medals or hit hundreds of homers. We can't transfer a packaged image -- whether it's packaged by Scott Boras or Kellogg's -- into a real-life human.

Rodriguez clearly is a packaged product, maybe the most packaged product we've seen in professional team sports. His performance during Tuesday's news conference was classic A-Rod: equal parts commendable candor and mystifying contradictions. If you truly believe he didn't know exactly what he was taking or what it might do, and if you truly believe he and his nameless cousin just cooked up this plan like a couple of desperate, broke guys plotting a robbery, then good luck to you as you await your fortune from a Nigerian bank account.

But we did learn some things about Rodriguez. Most prominently, we learned he didn't tell the whole truth to Peter Gammons last week, but we had that hunch, anyway. Last week, there was no mention of injections, but Tuesday, there were months and years of injections.

Last week, he had no indication he had tested positive until a Sports Illustrated reporter turned up in the gym a couple of days before the story broke. On Tuesday, as it turns out, he was told by union honcho Gene Orza that he might be construed as having failed the '03 anonymous test. But then later in his news conference, he said he didn't come clean before the Sports Illustrated exposé because it had been five years and he hadn't heard anything. Well, yes he had, he had heard that he might be interpreted as having failed the test. Tortured semantics aside, it's another example of how the truth keeps moving.

(By the way, is it too cynical to suggest A-Rod's script included the phrase "attempt to cry here" just before he thanked his teammates for their presence at the news conference? It definitely looked staged, or canned, and you've got to think someone in the Handling Department was thinking, "Cut! Cut!" when he kept trying to pull it off even after it became clear there were no tears to be found. For a guy who talks a lot about how emotional the whole ordeal has been, he's oddly unemotional.)

Words count, obviously. The idea that he was "curious" and "ignorant" is laughable, as is the contention that his three-year foray into the world of steroids constituted "experimenting." You experiment once or twice, maybe because you're curious and ignorant, but you don't experiment for three years. That's a habit, not an experiment.

And can we please call a moratorium on the youth excuse? If we are to believe his timetable, Rodriguez had been in the big leagues for six years before he started listening to his apparently pharmaceutically challenged cousin. He had just signed the biggest contract in history. He was represented by the savviest agent in the history of sports, a guy who is renowned for his ability to detail every ounce of his players' lives. To blame youth and naiveté is embarrassing. Rodriguez is just making himself sound stupid.

But let's get beyond A-Rod's obvious side-stepping and obfuscations and youthful indiscretions. We know the drill: He's trying to give just enough answers with just enough detail to throw everybody off the scent. He's not the first to employ the tactic, and he won't be the last. However, the most troubling answer Rodriguez gave came after a simple question:

Question: Do you think you cheated?

A-Rod: "That's not for me to determine."

This is the heart of the issue. This is where the commendable becomes questionable. Of course he cheated; that's the whole point. That's why he didn't tell anybody about it, and that's why he and his alleged cousin ran this allegedly hare-brained operation (a few injections every once in a while, whenever we felt like it, as we saw fit, over the course of three years) like a couple of schoolkids sneaking cigarettes behind the portables. Did they declare the drugs at customs? Probably not.

If Rodriguez is truly looking for accountability -- and he's about halfway there -- he needs to state the obvious: It was wrong; it was cheating; it was intentional. Not only that, but it was against the law, which might have something to do with why he and his spectral cousin made sure not to let anyone else in on the secret.

Rodriguez, despite his reflexive dismissal of the question, is absolutely the one who needs to determine that using steroids constituted cheating. It cuts to the core of the entire issue of personal responsibility. Without that determination, the rest just sounds like a pile of words stacked high enough to obscure the view.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.