Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The "I smoked pot but I didn't inhale" Excuse

When people in the public eye are suspected of doing something wrong and are questioned about it, some opt for a variation of Bill Clinton's account of his use of illegal drugs. He said he had smoked pot but hadn't inhaled it. He is fortunate that not many people cared about his pot usage but the credibility of his account of his drug use was zero on a scale of zero to 10.

Clinton could have made his lie/true account much more credible if he had said, "Yes, like many young people of the time, I smoked pot a few times but stopped because it wasn't doing anything for me. A few years later, I discovered why it didn't do anything for me -- you have to inhale the smoke and I didn't."

The key difference between these two accounts of Clinton's pot smoking is my account provides a reason for his stopping that is credible -- he didn't get high. People might have made fun of him for not inhaling but wouldn't see him as lying even if he was. It is very important when giving a mea culpa to actually say one is guilty but give account that minimizes the extent of the illegal or immoral action that is believable.

Recently, Andy Pettite, a pitcher for the New York Yankees was outed for his use of illegal performance enhancing drugs by a man who claimed he had injected Pettite with HGH (human growth hormone) some 2 to 4 times. The claim by the trainer was published in the Mitchell report. I understand that when Pettite was asked about having used performance enhancing drugs (henceforth PEDs) before he was outed in the Mitchell report. he denied it. This is a serious mistake. The odds that someone will out you is much too great to reasonably believe one will be able to get away with a total denial.

After being "formally" outed, Pettite did a Clintonian mea culpa. He admitted to using HGH twice, the lower figure used by the trainer who injected him, and he explained that he had been injured at the time. He goes on to say
I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible. For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone.
His actual "apology" was
If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize.
There are several problems with Pettite's account of his use of HGH.

The first problem is that he didn't actually give a mea culpa. Saying "if what I did was an error in judgment, I apologize" is too ridiculous for words. It is obvious to all that what he did was make an error of judgment. If he hadn't made an error of judgment he wouldn't have been outed. Rule one of an admission of guilt -- don't make it conditional. Say what you did was a mistake or error in judgment. The second problem is that his account is totally self-serving in that he represents his use of HGH as altruistic -- he wanted to get back pitching regularly as soon as possible to help his team. This plays into a basic sports mantra, namely that athletes must focus their efforts entirely on helping their team. If they are ever seen as acting to further their own interests rather than the interests of the team, they will be in deep trouble with the press and fans. The third problem is that his claim that he only used it twice is itself not credible since the trainer said it was 2-4 times. Admitting one did it "several times" would have been much better. A fourth problem is that he gives no explanation for quitting. If it wasn't an error in judgment, then why quit? My version of Clinton's mea culpa admitted his use and explained why he quit. You have to do both things in an apology or explanation.

If I had been advising Pettite, I would have said that I had used HGH a few times because I had been told that it would facilitate a quicker recovery from my injury and I was afraid that if I didn't heal quickly enough I might not get my spot back on the Yankees' starting rotation. But I knew that this was a prescription drug and I was therefore taking it illegally. Since I am not by nature a law breaker, I decided I had to stop even if there was some risk that I might not heal as quickly. The virtue of this account is that Pettite would have pled "guilty" but given a very credible explanation of both why he took HGH and why he stopped and in the process painted a picture of himself as being basically law abiding. Sports fans would have found it easy to forgive him. Everyone understands the pressure of trying to keep one's job.

Andy Pettite's sidekick, the 40-something medical marvel, Roger Clemens, who despite his advanced age remained a first rate pitcher with one of the lowest earned run averages in baseball, was also outed. He could still throw the ball hard and managed to win something like 3 Cy Young awards during the "steroids" era we have recently gone through and are probably still going through. A real problem with Roger is that like Barry Bonds, the first major star to be outed, Roger was a much bigger and stronger at 40-something than he had been as a 30-something pitcher. Since he had always worked out hard this didn't make much sense but his taking steroids would make sense out of it. Steroids allow one to recover more quickly from work outs and therefore allows one to work out hard much more frequently.

Roger Clemens, unlike Andy Pettite, flatly denied using PED's after the Mitchell report came out. This denial puts him in the awkward position that for him to go on and confess he must first admit that he lied about his use of PED's and then admit that he took the illegal drugs. Pettite too had lied but not after a "formal" charge had been leveled at him.

Barry Bonds is no longer the sole poster child for use of PED's. He has been joined by Roger Clemons and a legion of others. Barry himself gave a Clintonian style defense of his use of PED's. He claimed that he didn't know that what he was getting (the cream and the clear) was illegal. No one believes that either.

Another group that is in denial is baseball writers. They are poking holes at the report on a variety of grounds. Some have claimed, for instance, that it is based on hearsay. In fact, the report, insofar as it concerns Pettite and Clemens, is based on confessions by the person who administered the drugs, which makes the claims stronger than eye-witness testimony, and where it does involve hearsay evidence (i. e., Roger or Barry or Andy tells the report's source that he used PED's), the evidence would be admissible in court under the exception that it was an "admission against interest." The fact that baseball reporters are so angered by the report is interesting. They have been shown to be lousy reporters since they didn't dig up this information themselves, unlike the reporters who outed Bonds several years ago. And, if they pile onto those who had been outed, they are unlikely ever to get an exclusive interview with the athlete they have criticized. Furthermore, their jobs are seen by themselves and many others as important because they cover the actions and thoughts of people others deem important.

I have no useful advice to Clemens as to how he can get out from under the allegations against him. As Pete Rose, who continues to be denied entrance into the Hall of Fame, can tell Roger, it doesn't help to admit one lied about one's actions (Rose's actions were betting on his own team when he was a manager) if one waits too long.

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Blogger Rita said...

It is very important when giving a mea culpa to actually say one is guilty but give account that minimizes the extent of the illegal or immoral action that is believable.
The only thing I can think of to say is a quote that pops into my mind, "To be human is to be guilty." & I'm not sure where I heard it, Could be Kafka, Camus, Sartre, Bill Clinton (:) or maybe even our blogger friend Paul. What I like about how the existentialists say it, they understand the irony & the absurdity of the human condition. I think Bill Clinton understands it too, to a good degree.

Speaking of Bill Clinton, assuming that you are paying attention to his recent speeches, do you think he is helping Hillary's campaign?

12:44 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

After Obama got Oprah, Hillary had to go ballistic and got Bill. The problem she faces is that Bill, like Reagan, is incredibly likable (I didn't like Reagan but concede that many did) and Hillary is not. She is dwarfed by him. It is possible that Oprah dwarfs Obama as well. Maybe we should run Oprah.

I'm not a bit sure I am in favor of Hillary. She is trying to seem tough and I am troubled by that. I think she thinks that as a woman she must seem strong. It doesn't work for me. I might be for Edwards now. Usually, however, the candidate is chosen before the Ohio primary so I pay little attention. Could be different this time around.

7:53 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

(AKA Handmaiden)
My friend arcturus over at celestial Arcturus provided an interesting link to an article] from the Washington Post about why some of the media portrays Hillary Clinton in an unfavorable light. The thought that the media might have such shallow motives isn't news of course, but it's still disappointing to think that this is how they choose to spin it. As for Hillary appearing to strong, I think it is hard for any women to come across as being as competent as a man, without appearing arrogant or too "strong". She does come across to me as being competent for the job. As I think she is very savvy.

You are right that Hillary is in Bill Clinton's shadow, but I am glad he is being vocal & supporting her. I see it as an advantage, he sure has more clout then any of the other candidates spouses. I also see her as a person able to hold her own.

I want to get those Republicans out of there so badly, all the Democrat candidates look good to me.

11:49 AM


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