<
>

Up Front

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Liars aren't bad folks all the time, ya know. Just most of the time.

There are gentle, comical liars like Shaquille O'Neal, swearing that his acrimonious relationship with Kobe Bryant was "all marketing!" And there's the old Knicks boss, Dave Checketts, who successfully and adroitly lied to New Yorkers for a decade—teasing them into believing that Patrick Ewing's crew had a shot at knocking off Michael Jordan's Bulls.

Then, of course, there are characters like Rafael Palmeiro, who wagged his finger at elected officials and claimed he never used steroids, just two months before testing positive for steroids. Or Sammy Sosa, who decided he needed an interpreter when he went before Congress. Or Mark McGwire, who refused to answer questions about steroid use because the truth could mean trouble.

Technically, there's no proof that any of these players lied, but they sure are guilty of looking foolish.

And now comes Alex Rodriguez—with his trifling, lying self—to show us that 2009 promises more of the same old stuff. Please don't get me wrong—the year didn't begin badly. In a span of four days, the Steelers won the Super Bowl in the final minute, Kobe torched the Knicks for 61, and LeBron dropped 52 on New York and left town with a triple-double, which was later rescinded when a rebound was taken away due to a stat-keeping error. Maybe we should've seen that reversal as a harbinger of worse news to come. The A-Rod affair certainly makes one thing clear: We're the dopes if we think the future will be different from the past.

Take a moment to understand the depth of A-Rod's lies. Although he had used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003, he stood back and watched as teammate Jason Giambi apologized, apparently for steroid use, in 2005, then as Andy Pettitte—another teammate, by the way—took heat after admitting, in December 2007, his use of HGH. That same month, A-Rod had the temerity to extend his deceit in an interview with Katie Couric on 60 Minutes. A-Rod didn't blink once while telling Couric he never used PEDs. And at no time did he summon the gumption to "put everything behind me," acknowledge use and share the heat. What did he do? He acted innocent. Worse, A-Rod more recently accused Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts of "stalking" him, only to apologize later. These are monumental lies. A-Rod's deception has trampled our trust more severely than any transgression by Barry Bonds.

Here's the difference: Bonds may be lying about unknowingly having used the cream and the clear, snubbing his nose at Major League Baseball and its fans. But it also may be Bonds' way of telling the world, Go to hell. I don't give a frog's fat behind what you think about me.

Bonds has never cared to be loved the way A-Rod does. He's never fielded his own PR machine in an effort to perpetuate an image at odds with himself. He's never possessed the "Single White Female" complex—a handle Joe Torre used in his book to describe A-Rod's obsession with Derek Jeter.

Simply put, A-Rod cares too much. He'll say anything to squirm out of trouble. Oddly, he may have been truthful about one point, when he said a cousin from Miami, not teammates in the clubhouse, helped him acquire performance-enhancing drugs. Thing is, what does it say for the rest of the sports world when the highest-paid baseball player is reduced to asking forgiveness for stories that twist and turn and never end?

Someone should ask that question of A-Rod and former teammate Roger Clemens. Nothing seems to stop these guys. Not the integrity of the game. Not their employers. Not the fans. And apparently, not even those closest to them.

Considering how thoroughly the sports world has become infected with this plague, there seems to be just one solution: Go after their money! Salaries. Endorsements. Everything. Call it the Marion Jones rule: Anyone caught lying must give back money their lies helped them earn. I ran that by a high-ranking MLB official, and he said, "Hey, not a bad idea. Worth thinking about." (I'll let you know what the Supreme Court says.)

In the end, ever-candid Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins gets the final word: "Why waste time lying?" he asks. "You feel what you feel. You do what you do. Others have to live with your truth. You're the one who has to live with your lies."

Ain't that the truth.