I have been thinking a lot about what I would do if I were Alex Cora.
In the past, people who have had the kind of precipitous public fall from grace that Cora has had often committed suicide. That’s neither an ethical nor reasonable response for the former Boston manager, but what is an ethical and reasonable response?
If you don’t know: Alex Cora was, until recently, one of the most popular, secure and successful young managers in Major League Baseball. His present was bright—he had a contract that paid him $800,000 a year, he was one of the faces of the Boston Red Sox, a storied franchise with a fanatic following, he was seen as a role model and an an inspiring figure who represented the game, his city and his team, as well as his Puerto Rico home. His future was if anything, brighter: more money, perhaps even greater success with a talented and wealthy club, endorsement contracts, upper management, books, broadcasting…and of course, adulation, celebrity and fame.
Then, in the span of days, it was all gone. Cora was named as the mastermind of a sign-stealing cheating scandal that devastated the Houston Astros, and as the likely one responsible for another cheating scandal in Boston. He was fired as Boston’s manager, and the fans, and sports media are furious. Cora is certain to be suspended without pay for two years, and to be pronounced persona non grata in baseball for the foreseeable future. No baseball team will want to be associated with Alex Cora even after his official punishment is over.
So far, Cora has not addressed all of this in public; presumably he is awaiting the MLB report after its investigation of Boston’s sign-stealing in 2018. He has not yet apologized nor acknowledged wrong-doing. What is the most ethical way for him to proceed?
If I were hired to give Cora professional guidance about the way to proceed in the most ethical manner possible, what would it be? Cora still has to earn a living. He has to go on living too: he has a family. He has responsibilities.
Here are the 12 steps—it just turned out that way, I swear. Okay, when I got to ten and realized I was near the end, I did think, “Surely this can be jiggered to have 12 steps..”—that I would urge Alex Cora to follow:
1. Come clean. Admit everything, even aspects of his conduct that haven’t been made known or discovered. In the process, exonerate everyone who followed him into this corruption. He was their leader, and they trusted him He abused their trust.
2. Accept all blame. Do a Robert E. Lee, who greeted his defeated soldiers after Gettysburg by saying, “It was all my fault.”
3. Apologize generally, specifically, and without excuses, mitigations or restraint. Issue a #1 apology, one “motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.” Such an apology for Cora must include…
- Major League Baseball, which has treated Cora well, and which he paid pack by harming its image and integrity.
- The Astros and the Red Sox, both of whom now have Championship seasons forever marred by doubts regarding their legitimacy.
- The management of both teams, which hired him and trusted him and were betrayed by him.
- Those players on both teams who trusted his leadership and judgment, and were led, by him, into conduct that will call into question their own achievements.
- Ex Houston manager A.J. Hinch, who was Cora’s friend and mentor, and who lost his job and his own career because of Cora’s conduct as his bench coach. As far as Cora’s culpability is concerned, it doesn’t matter that Hinch failed as a leader, and should have, and could have, stopped Cora’s scheme in its tracks before the damage was done. He shouldn’t have had any scheme to stop.
- Ex Houston general manager General Manager Jeff Luhnow. He also lost his job, reputation and career. As with Hinch, Luhlow deserved to be fired, but that doesn’t mitigate Cora’s central role in setting in motion the disaster that Luhlow mishandled. Yes, he should apologize to Luhlow even though he blamed Cora in his own (lousy) apology.
- The cities of Houston and Boston, and all of their citizens, officials, professionals, businesses, and admirers. He brought shame on them all.
- Astros and Red Sox fans, as well as baseball fans generally.
- Opposing teams and their players, especially pitchers who may have had their careers adversely affected because of poor outings brought about by Cora’s teams knowing which pitches would be thrown.
- The Los Angeles Dodgers and their players in 2017 and 2018.
- Cora’s family and friends.
4. The apology statement should not be made on Twitter or other social media. It should be made publicly, and orally, not read, but delivered from notes in his own words, looking into the camera. The apology and apologies contain unequivocal statements that he was wrong, that his conduct was deliberate, and that it was not “mistakes” that placed him in this position. He must not protest that “this is not who he is.” Cora must not make references to pressures, needs or passions that “made” him do what he did. He must describe his conduct with the Astros and Red Sox as a personal failure of character, sportsmanship, and judgment. He must state that he is determined to do what he can to make amends, but that he knows much of the harm he inflicted cannot be undone or repaired. He must say that he knows he must dedicate himself going forward to making himself capable of being again regarded as worthy of trust and leadership duties in the future, but that he recognizes that for many who have been hurt and disappointed by his conduct, this may be impossible, and perhaps impossible for anyone. At no time should he reference God, or his faith.
5. Cora should take questions from reporters, and perhaps fans. He is fortunate; he is a smart and articulate man, and will be able to do it. Throughout his answers, he must not exhibit self-pity or attempt to mitigate his conduct. While saying that he is determined to reform himself and prove someday that he can be trusted again, he should also state that at this time he is not certain how to do that.
6. Once his public condemnation of his own acts is complete and the apologies made, Cora should announce that he is donating his winners’ shares of the Astros and the Red Sox Championships to an organization that promotes sportsmanship or that works to eliminate corruption in the workplace.
7. He should then employ a professional ethics consultant and advisor—no not a spiritual advisor, for that device has been too often used as a cynical dodge, and no, not me— who will devise a course of reading and training for him to better understand why he behaved as he did, and to learn and master the ethics tools essential to strengthening Cora’s ethics alarms.
8. At the appropriate time he should begin a project that uses his experience to teach others not to behave as he did. The project should involve speaking engagements, gratis, except for expenses, at schools and in front of all students, not just athletes. He should expand his appearances to businesses, boards of directors, and elected officials, discussing the obligations of leadership and trust.
9. If his the response to his presentations warrant it, he should seek consultant positions in various organizations. At no point should he actively seek a position in baseball. He should wait to see if they come to him.
10. Eventually he should write a book about his life and career, in the context of his cheating, focusing on what he has learned and how he learned it. Again, the proceeds should be contributed to appropriate non-profit organizations.
11. Cora must go forward realizing that from now on, he has no margin for error. He must pay all of his taxes on time, drive at the speed limit, never exceed his credit limits. He spent all of his good will and more in his baseball crimes. He has to earn a second chance, and it may never come.
12. Finally, Alex Cora must be brutally honest and self-reflective, and know when he is genuinely ready to be trusted again, and worthy of that trust.
Then, and only after all of the steps have been diligently followed, Alex Cora might get some of his career and reputation back.
I wish him luck.
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