The Big Lie

His about-face just makes Pete Rose the latest in a long line of people whose dishonesty has been famously exposed

January 06, 2004|By Gerald P. Merrell | Gerald P. Merrell,SUN STAFF

For 14 years, Pete Rose stared into the cameras and vowed he'd never bet on baseball, believing, presumably, that his passionate denials would protect his image and help him to ultimately secure a place in baseball's Hall of Fame.

Having failed in both those pursuits, Rose now admits it's all been a big lie. He did, in fact, bet on baseball, the game's cardinal sin.

Rose did so not just once or twice, if that would actually matter. He put money down four or five times a week while managing the Cincinnati Reds, according to excerpts from his autobiography released to Sports Illustrated magazine.

Rose's admission of lying puts him in the company of many who traveled the tricky path of managing the truth, only to be revealed for the liars that they are. They include presidents and would-be presidents, journalists, priests, corporate executives, pop stars, parents and other athletes. Indeed, no facet of society has been immune from those who violate sacred trusts, then lie about it.

Rose's mea culpa is no doubt aimed, in some part, at pumping up sales of his soon-to-be-released book, My Prison Without Bars, and appears to represent a final, desperate attempt to convince baseball writers that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

(He probably stands a good chance, since many of the baseball writers who vote on candidates seem to be much more enamored of statistics than ethics.)

But for the rest of us, there is some sense that Rose and others like him are giving us exactly what we want: a chance to pardon those who have deceived us, says Fred Guy, professor and director of the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics at the University of Baltimore.

"The American people [are] a forgiving public," he says. "People do not like to be deceived. And when heroes admit that they lied, people tend to say, `Well, at least he's coming clean. At least he's honest.' "

Maybe so, but the public does not always forgive or forget. A few celebrated cases in point from a prevaricators hall of fame:

Richard Nixon

In less than two years, he turned one of the largest landslides in U.S. history into humiliation and condemnation, resigning the presidency one step ahead of certain impeachment and conviction.

Following the arrests of five men who broke into, burglarized and bugged the national headquarters of the Democratic Party, Nixon repeatedly denied to Congress, prosecutors and the American public the administration's involvement, at one point firmly declaring, "I am not a crook."

Transcripts of a taped conversation on June 23, 1972, revealed that Nixon discussed a plan to have the CIA block the FBI's investigation of the break-in.

He resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, retiring in seclusion to his estate in San Clemente, Calif., where he wrote his memoirs and served as an elder statesman until his death in 1994.

Susan Smith

The entire nation wept with this young South Carolina mother in 1994 as she pleaded for the safe return of her two sons, whom she said had been abducted by an African-American male.

Nine days later, the nation wept again as it learned the truth: that Smith had strapped the children - Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months - in the back of her car, put the vehicle in gear and watched it slide down a boat ramp into a lake, drowning the boys.

Sentenced to life in prison, Smith has since made the news by having sex with a married prison guard and placing an online personal ad seeking pen-pals who are "not judgmental."

Janet Cooke

She was awarded journalism's highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize, in 1981, for a wrenching and disturbing account published in The Washington Post of a 8-year-old heroin addict in the District of Columbia.

The award was later revoked as suspicions grew, forcing Cooke to acknowledge that the story was a fabrication.

That wasn't her only try at creativity. The Post revealed that in an autobiographical report to the Pulitzer committee, Cooke claimed she was a magna cum laude graduate of Vassar College and held a master's degree from the University of Toledo. She attended Vassar for a year and received a bachelor of arts at Toledo.

Cooke resigned from The Post after the scandal broke and seems to have disappeared from public view.

George O'Leary

It took him two decades to land one of the most prestigious coaching jobs in the country - as head football coach for Notre Dame.

It took less than five days for him to lose it.

O'Leary was hired in December 2001, but resigned that same week after admitting that he falsified his resume and lied about playing football for the University of New Hampshire.

But he landed on his feet. The Minnesota Vikings hired O'Leary as their defensive coordinator. What was good enough for the NFL was good enough for the University of Central Florida, which hired him last month to be its new head football coach.

The college's football program has been buffeted by disciplinary problems off the field. Perhaps O'Leary is the perfect fit.

Rosie Ruiz

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