Silence speaks volumes in age of lost innocence

THE GREAT THING about being innocent is that you never have to make up a story to prove it.

The great thing about being innocent is that you don't need a lawyer sitting next to you whispering in your ear while you answer questions for congressmen or baseball officials or nosy reporters.

The great thing about being innocent is that you have nothing to hide so you don't have to go through a bunch of tortured machinations to convince everyone that you're not hiding anything.

So what are we supposed to think when Rafael Palmeiro reportedly tests positive for the steroid stanozolol and continues to protest his innocence, but hides behind a "confidentiality agreement" during his initial public response last week and now is hiding behind an "ongoing congressional investigation" to avoid facing the public music upon his return to the Orioles today?

Agent Arn Tellem released a statement yesterday explaining why there would be no news conference today when Palmeiro returns from his 10-day steroid suspension, and -- in a very sad way -- it speaks for itself:

"It would not be appropriate to comment while the House Committee on Government Reform is doing its work. Pending review by that committee, there will be no other public comment. Raffy looks forward to rejoining the Orioles tomorrow, and he will focus his attention on baseball."

It was Tellem, remember, who said last week that Palmeiro would "tell his side of the story soon," which makes the silence all the more revealing. There really was nothing keeping Palmeiro from telling his side of the story last week. The confidentiality clause in the steroid-testing policy only really applies to management and does nothing to prevent a player from trying to clear his name.

Now, after his name has been dragged through the dirt to the point where even Jose Canseco is starting to look like a standup guy, all Palmeiro and his agent have to offer is another excuse to keep his story to himself?

Don't kid yourself. Palmeiro didn't just wake up yesterday morning and decide, on the advice of counsel, to refrain from illuminating the situation. The issue of what Palmeiro will say and when he will say it has been the subject of negotiations with the Orioles and, presumably, the Major League Baseball Players Association for several days.

There were rumors of a Wednesday media conference early in the week, and then -- somehow -- the date of the supposedly unscheduled presser was shifted to today. Then it was canceled altogether. Draw your own conclusions.

I'll tell you what I think. I think the whole nature of the situation changed when somebody leaked the identity of the steroid found in Palmeiro's system. The loss of deniability, coupled with the aggressive congressional response, persuaded Palmeiro's handlers to refocus on long-term damage control rather than any Hail Mary attempt to maintain the appearance of innocence.

It must have become obvious at some point over the past nine days that Palmeiro's reputation was too damaged to salvage with any further attempt to create reasonable doubt in the minds of baseball fans and Hall of Fame voters. That left only two reasonable options -- come entirely clean and hope the public has a short memory or keep your mouth shut and hope the overall perspective changes as more players test positive and baseball fans become more jaded about the steroid era. Looks like Tellem has advised Palmeiro to go with Plan B.

Time will heal some of the damage. Ray Lewis gets a standing ovation every time he dances onto the field before a Ravens game, even though he allegedly was present at a double homicide and pleaded guilty to an obstruction of justice charge. Jamal Lewis just got out of an Atlanta halfway house after serving four months in prison for facilitating a drug transaction with a cell phone, but I'm guessing the fans will welcome him back if he keeps his nose clean and rushes for 1,500 yards this year.

We live in a forgiving society, but Palmeiro hasn't asked for forgiveness. He has lawyered up and now he has clammed up, not exactly the best way to convince people that you didn't really mean to do anything wrong. He did deliver a qualified apology on the day he was suspended, but it was insufficient because it did not come with any real admission of wrongdoing.

If there is some untold story that would cast him in a more positive light, then it is fair to ask why he has passed up two opportunities to tell it.

The legitimacy of his entire baseball career is hanging in the balance, and Palmeiro sends his agent to tell you he can't say anything in his own defense because "it would not be appropriate to comment while the House Committee on Government Reform is doing its work."

That ought to tell you something.

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