Roger Clemens, thrower of fastballs and, sometimes, broken bats, asked a pertinent question during the grilling he received at the hands of a congressional committee last Wednesday: "How... can I prove a negative?"
For Clemens, this is an especially important question, as he stands accused of taking illegal performance enhancing drugs. He needs to convince people that, through his entire career, he didn't take shortcuts to bolster his performance or recover from injury. Should senators stand convinced that Clemens did, in fact, use these drugs, despite denying it, he also risks being accused of perjury.
The "prove a negative" quandary has plagued plenty of people. But, despite the protestations of defense lawyers, it is rarely unaccompanied with another rhetoric chestnut, "the benefit of doubt."
The answer to Clemens' question, at least in the court of public opinion, is not one he will like. You cannot prove a negative once you have been accused. You can only place your brand, and your reputation is a positive spot before the accusations begin.
This, of course, seems obvious, but is often ignored by most personalities, companies, and organizations any time an incident like Clemens' comes up. It's not hard to imagine a celebrity or a corporate CEO, in his or her luxurious hotel suite or board room, saying, confidently, "That could never happen to me."
But it will happen again and again to those who do not take great pains to monitor their reputation. Clemens was never shy in telling the media about throwing inside to intimidate batters. He is also famous for throwing the a forementioned broken bat at former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza during the 2000 World Series. Intentional or not, the press and others got the impression Clemens had a disdain for the way he was viewed, unless it included his pitching statistics or championships.
When things get to the court of opinion, factual statements can often hold less weight than emotions and interpretations. Bemoaning this rule of the game does nothing to alter the field.
For example, the general perception of Martha Stewart's conviction and jail time now is that, while she may have unwittingly or foolishly broken a law, most feel she was a victim of a zealous prosecution or was given the wrong verdict. Since she was seemingly monomaniacal about her image and meticulous in her work - to the detriment of many relationships - people couldn't fathom that she'd risk her career for a fast buck that required an instantaneous deception.
Clemens, however, seemingly gave no thought to his image and only wanted to win. The latter is certainly a fine goal, but he gave off the impression that he was willing to do anything, such as throw painful items dangerously close to the opposition, to attain victory.
The lesson here is not to pillory Clemens - at least not in a marketing trade title (the senators have their own agendas), nor say he deserves the scorn he's gotten. His travails are a lesson to all; the only way to prove a negative is build up a case against any future negatives through your actions, deeds, and words.