By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

As always, the problem with our performance-enhanced athletes is not the indiscretion of usage, but the lies that come afterward.

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Like an ever-growing web, the public fibbing doesn’t just brand the liars as untrustworthy, unseemly and worse. It also swallows up their followers as well. Saddest of all are the kids who idolize the steroid-tainted players who loudly proclaimed, “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!” until it was proved beyond all shadow of a doubt that they indeed did it.

It is a technique that politicians have used for ages. Richard Nixon (“I am not a crook!”) resigned once the Watergate jig was up. Bill Clinton (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”) was impeached over his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. Michael Grimm just won a third term in the House of Representatives while pooh-poohing a 20-count indictment for tax fraud.

Mendacity works for them, and adults have come to accept it as a systemic element of politics. Note the phrasing. Not systemic flaw. Systemic element. It’s just their way of doing business, of keeping a job.

Fair enough. But these athletes’ lies go beyond adults who should demand better of their public servants but remain silent. The kids follow the lives of their heroes quite closely through the celebrity magazines and sports pages. Whether consciously or not, they pick up on the personality traits and quirks. They wear their hats like them, buy the costume jewelry that makes them look like the real article, purchase the sneakers with their names on them.

And they mimic the most reprehensible aspects of their personal behavior.

Teachers see it in the classroom every day. Any miscreant who gets caught red-handed trying to destroy a desk knows that the requisite first words out his mouth are “I didn’t do anything.” Once challenged because, well, the teacher was looking right at him as he dug his pen into the desk top, a retort of “You’re crazy, you must be seeing things,” immediately follows.

Should the teacher persist, that educator’s boss may well receive a note from the student’s parent claiming persecution.

It is the A-Rod Complex — a complete and total rejection of accountability. For every action, there is no reaction except for denial.

“I didn’t do it.”

“I didn’t do it.”

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“I swear I didn’t do it.”

Alex Rodriguez did that for months until the DEA gathered so much evidence against them that he reportedly couldn’t help but turn stoolie on his drug supplier and cousin in return for immunity. Roger Clemens continues to proclaim his innocence even though the evidence, including bloody gauze and syringes, points the other way.

Ryan Braun, like Rodriguez, took a PED suspension and then squealed to the feds for immunity in the same Biogenesis case. But before the Brewers slugger accepted his 65-game suspension in 2013, he first eluded a 50-game suspension by calling into doubt the chain of evidence surrounding the PED test, and then cost a sample collector his career when Braun argued he breached protocol.

Braun was more than welcomed back by the Milwaukee faithful. They have him a standing ovation in the opener, and he rewarded them with 19 homers this past year.

His real gift to the young, however, remains his abject innocence regarding PEDs, until he couldn’t help but admit it.

Deny, deny, deny.

Rodriguez, Braun and all others who have failed to accept responsibility for injecting and ingesting PEDs have passed along that philosophy to impressionable youth. Our leaders of tomorrow have listened to them more closely than any civics teacher. They have taken copious notes.

In an age where accountability and integrity has become ever more important, it has become ever scarcer.

It’s a shame.

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