There’s a point at which that generosity of spirit—not to mention our collective suspension of disbelief—gets abused one time too many. But even then, partisans and other wishful thinkers are often willing not only to accept the card but to pretend that they’re not being gamed in the first place.
“The situation in baseball,” says Seth Mnookin, author of Feeding the Monster, the best seller about the Boston Red Sox, “is different than in cycling, because the testing process is so opaque, and the results, until recently, weren’t made public. So unlike Tour de France ‘winner’ Floyd Landis—where there was a huge amount of public evidence, and Landis looked increasingly stupid because of his shifting and preposterous excuses—for someone like Barry Bonds to deny using steroids by claiming he had no idea what was going on is oftentimes the fig leaf fans and the media need to ignore the issue.” In other words, sports franchises and the fans who love them become so dependent on the performance (steroidally enhanced or not) of individual players that they’d accept any Card if it meant more home-team victories.
But for Tom Gable, the CEO of San Diego P.R. firm Gable-Cook-Schmid—specialists in crisis management—the Card simply has to do with “arrogance trumping good sense and traditional values,” particularly when played in the public eye. Celebrities in particular, he says, are prone to “thinking they are above the fray, isolating themselves from the real world, and surrounding themselves with sycophants who encourage the foolishness.”
It also all trickles up from the lowest-common-denominator blame-shifting that’s rampant in American society, Gable says. “People screw up all the time and try to deflect, delay, pass the blame, sue, or all of the above. Is it someone else’s fault that you spilled hot coffee on your own crotch? Do we need warning tags on every electrical gadget to let us know not to use them around water?”
Increasingly, the pathetic answer is yes. In fact, the Ignorance Card may be the most obnoxious card of all. Just look at the lawsuit-mandated warning labels on the nearest appliance, or that Starbucks grande cup you’re about to toss in the trash.
Ultimately, it comes down to this, Gable says: “Only weak people play the Sympathy Card.” Gable is paid big bucks to tell his clients that. Hopefully he’s really soaking the bastards who play the I’m-a-Weak-Person Card.