It is hard to work up much sympathy for Alex Rodriguez, one of the highest-paid athletes on the planet (his 10-year contract with the Yankees is worth $275 million), who is now contesting a suspension because of charges that he engaged in doping to boost his performance. There is really no excuse for a baseball player this gifted breaking the rules to gain an edge he didn’t really need.
But somehow New York Times columnist George Vecsey manages to provide an excuse in the fact that A-Rod’s father abandoned the family when the little slugger was just nine years old. Vecsey quotes an old interview in which A-Rod lamented his father’s departure: “After a while, I lied to myself,” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”
A-Rod’s abandonment is then contrasted with Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ most beloved player, who “has a father, Charles, who was a drug counselor, and a mother, Dorothy, who was an accountant, as well as a sister. The family seems to have sent him a message: Derek, whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. Which he never has been.”
Granted, it is better for any youngster to grow up with a father than without one. The literature on this subject is copious. But it is quite a stretch to suggest that a fatherless lad is destined to become a wrongdoer of some kind.
A-Rod himself disproves this fallacy: Throughout his life he has shown almost superhuman drive to become the best baseball player in the game. It is unthinkable that anyone without copious quantities of discipline could wrack up achievements like his–as Wikipedia notes: “He is the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, breaking the record Jimmie Foxx set in 1939, and the youngest to hit 600, besting Babe Ruth’s record by over a year. Rodriguez has 14 100-RBI seasons in his career, more than any other player in history”–without monumental discipline and hard work, doping or no doping.
For further proof of what fatherless men can accomplish, look at our current president, whose father left his mother shortly after his birth and met him only once. Barack Obama didn’t turn out too badly. Or see a preceding president–Bill Clinton–whose father died before he was born and whose stepfather was a violent alcoholic and gambler. Or look back a little further at Ronald Reagan whose father was an irresponsible alcoholic. One could even make the case that having father-abandonment issues has driven these men to stratospheric achievement.
Perhaps it was different with A-Rod. Perhaps his rule breaking really does stem from the loss of his father, undoubtedly a traumatic moment. But that was a long time ago and he has been shaped by many experiences in the intervening decades. It is a cop-out–almost a parody, in fact, of America’s therapeutic culture–to ascribe this superstar’s transgressions to the lack of a father figure in his life. For most of his life A-Rod did just fine fatherless. Now he must take responsibility for what he has done wrong, assuming, as the bulk of the evidence indicates, that he is guilty as charged.