What Ryan Braun’s Season-Ending Suspension Can Teach Us About Personal Finance

For those of you that follow baseball, you may have caught wind of the recent news that Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun recently received a season-ending suspension (65 games) for his link to the Biogenesis Lab that violated league policy concerning performance-enhancing substances (as of my writing this on July 23rd, 2013, the specific details regarding dosages has not been publicly disclosed). But what is noteworthy about Braun’s case is that it yet again proves the trope “it’s not the crime that causes the biggest headache, rather, it’s the cover-up).

If you have watched ESPN at all in the past 24 hours, you must have seen the February 2012 clip of Braun playing the victim card after his urine sample reportedly contained excessive amounts of testosterone, while Braun proclaimed his own innocence and facilitated the firing of the lab technician for improperly transporting Braun’s urine sample.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPKurzzwGxg

When something stupid and knuckleheaded that you have done comes to light, there are two intelligent paths you can go down to mitigate the damage:

(1) Completely own up to it. Hell yeah, I took supplements to enhance my performance. I wanted to be the best, and I wouldn’t stop at anything until I was the best. The legendary pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Gibson, was a legendary workhouse that refused to fraternize with opposing ballplayers in any capacity because he considered them enemy combatants. During his playing days, he regularly conducted interviews in magazines claiming he’d willingly break any rules if he thought he could get away with it and it would improve his chances of victory. In recent years, he said he would have gladly taken supplements if they were available in the 1960s. No one gets mad at Gibson because he’s clearly expressing who he is. There’s no pretense. He wants to win, and he doesn’t care how.

(2) Be sincere and honest in your apology. Say you cheated because you thought you could get away with it, but after experiencing the social fallout from getting caught, you’ve decided you want to work like hell to get your reputation back and you’ll try to move in the direction of being as good of a man when people aren’t looking as when they are.  That accurately sums up the situation, and it will be easier for people to get over it if your apology doesn’t sound like BS.

What’s the worst way to respond to a reputational crisis? Deny something that will eventually be proven true, do it with a sense of smug self-righteousness, and then issue a lawyerly written apology that extensively uses the passive tense and fails to convey any genuine emotion or signal of sorrow.

This is Braun’s apology released through MLB.com:

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun said in a statement released by MLB that did not specifically mention Biogenesis.”I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.

Not exactly oratory up there with FDR’s “We Have Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself”, is it?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amNpxQANk0M

Does anyone doubt that this statement was written by the local law firm or PR firm that Braun hired? There is nothing impressive or commendable about this apology.

If I wanted to become a nationally reviled figure after cheating, here’s what I would do:

(1) Release a lifeless statement instead of an emotional, heart-felt apology on camera.

(2) Use crutch statements like “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect” to constitute half the statement.

(3) Use vague nouns and catchword phrases like “some mistakes” and “consequences of those actions” that make you wonder if a spam robot is the author of the apology instead of a high-powered attorney getting paid thousands of dollars to conduct damage control.

Pretty much the only way to get the overwhelming majority of the American people to dislike you is to be an insincere hypocrite. Almost anything else is tolerable and can be loved (Exhibit A: See Johnny Manziel’s burgeoning fan base). Even though Braun cheated, that’s the problem. That’s not the core issue that’s causing people to dislike him. It’s the fact that he cloaked himself in moral self-righteousness in denying the allegations, and then issued an apology that is so lame that it may have actually created more damage than it mitigated (in fact, I know the weak apology frustrated people even more).

William F. Buckley, the founder of The National Review, once joked that if a politician took a bribe, the New York Times would dig up a quote about the politician claiming he was against bribes earlier in his career, rather than lambasting the immorality of the act itself.

That is the peculiar thing about American life—it’s not the sin that is most troublesome, but rather, the response to the sin.

You bet this kind of logic has implications for personal finance portfolio construction. It’s not doing something—buying a bad stock, incurring an obnoxious debt—that is going to derail from the path of putting you into the position to meet your financial dreams. It’s responding to that stuff poorly— by obstinately holding that Crocs (CROX) stock because you “just know it’s gonna make a comeback”—that is going to get you into long-term trouble.

Messing up in life is not what dooms you. It’s the neglect of responding intelligently afterwards that causes the more permanent problems. The good news for the personal finance side of the equation is that there is nothing stopping you from laying down the groundwork to act intelligent right now—today—to put yourself in the position to achieve a better tomorrow. With character issues, the window of response time is much shorter.