Deceit, Punishment, and the Restoration of Trust

Whether it's a baseball MVP or one of us mere spectators, deceit and punishment must go hand-in-hand. After all, trust is at stake.

It all came home to roost again this week with the suspension of Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun, star outfielder and National League MVP in 2011, when Major League Baseball announced his doping suspension for the rest of this year's baseball season: reported to be a total of 65 games and forfeiture of millions in salary. Braun is just the first to be suspended and you can be sure that there will be more to come as the MLB gets courage in the wake of the investigation into the Florida "anti-aging clinic."

This is the same clinic that has been tied to Alex Rodriguez and other players. You can safely ask whether the others who are implicated will have harsher suspensions or even face a complete ban from the game.

The arrogant fall the hardest. Only last year, after sidestepping punishment by winning his appeal on a failed drug test, Braun was trumpeting his victory. At the time, he was a bit too loud and certainly premature when he declared: "The truth is always relevant and the truth prevailed."

Ah, how right he was though... little did he realize it then.

Braun is just one in a long line of those who thought they could get away with it, many of whom go far beyond the baseball diamond.

President Nixon fell from grace, the product of his own arrogance, deceit, and lies. Lance Armstrong will forever rue the day he lashed out at those who were his close friends and then turned on them like Attila the Hun, defying his doping charges and throwing the other riders to the curb. All-too-eager students who cheat on tests will most certainly learn the hard way. The names of corporate chiefs escorted out of the building and hauled before the courts are legendary. And, if they didn't ultimately end up in jail, they made it onto lists identifying the worst CEOs, a legacy their children have to live with.

We can't help but wonder about those others who are tempted to put winning above all else.

This year's New York City mayoral and comptroller races are ones for the record books. Not one but two candidates who deceived the rest of us are in the running. As New York Governor Cuomo described it: "political theater." I guess they hope we will make light of it and then forget. Will we?

What makes this all so sad is that deceit really means the loss of trust.

And what is more precious than trust?

Trust makes the world go around. Chief Justice Louis Brandeis understood deceit and the loss of trust. In his 1914 book, he argued for a bright light on those who would do wrong: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

Almost a hundred years later now, retired Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Harvard graduates about the pivotal role of trust in their lives. He said: "In virtually all transactions, we rely on the word of those with whom we do business."

If the ultimate goal is to build trust and, when shattered, be ready to restore trust, punishment is exactly right.

The suspension of Ryan Braun is just. So would be the suspension of all those others who want to deceive the rest of us into believing that they are better than they actually are.

For baseball or any other part of life, the same rules apply.

If there is one lesson we should draw from this when we chat with our friends or talk with our children at the kitchen table, it is not to debate the length of the suspension or the loss of the money. Rather, as the Italian proverb goes, it is to remind them that "deceit has short legs." To point out that it is rarely "if" they will be caught but rather "when."

Most important, though, it is to illustrate what happens when deceit shatters trust.