by Steve Adubato, PhD

Body language often speaks louder than words. Consider the case of A.J. Burnett, the New York Yankees pitcher who makes $16.5 million per season but is consistently booed by Yankees fans who believe he is an underachiever and grossly overpaid.

Recently, Burnett, who is extremely talented, had trouble getting anyone out or throwing any strikes. Finally, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who prides himself on having a controlled communication style, walked out to the mound with the bases loaded in the second inning. It was time to yank Burnett.

But as Girardi got to the mound, the pitcher handed him the ball and then as he was walking from the mound turned toward the manager's direction and used profanity that was picked up by television cameras.

It was embarrassing for everyone involved, particularly Burnett and Girardi. As Burnett walked off the field, he never stopped in the dugout and went right to the clubhouse. After sitting down for just a moment on the Yankees bench, Girardi stormed into the clubhouse for what he claimed was to watch a video replay of a pitch, which is what both Girardi and Burnett claim Burnett was actually angry about.

While Burnett later claimed that he and Girardi never crossed paths behind closed doors, both of them came out of the clubhouse a few moments later with Burnett sitting on the bench sulking. He was communicating his disgust on many levels. The baseball tradition is that if a pitcher is pulled from a game, he has the responsibility of sitting on the bench until that half of the inning is over. After initially sitting on the bench, Burnett got up and walked into the clubhouse once again before the half inning was over. Talk about a sore loser.

After a game, professional sport's managers are expected to respond to a series of tough questions and communicate in a coherent, clear and concise fashion. But as soon as Girardi was asked about Burnett's antics on the mound, he lost it. He angrily responded to questioners, appalled that they would even imply that Burnett would try to show him up.

Girardi continued expressing his anger at this line of questioning. Saying, "This is really, really silly. You know what, we had a fistfight. No, I came in and looked at the pitch. (Burnett's version was that he was cursing about what he thought was a bad call, and not
cursing at his manager) Our video room is right there. Everyone always seems to want the blow up about A.J., A.J., A.J. Nothing happened between me and A.J."

Girardi, while attempting to protect and defend his communication-challenged pitcher, protested too much. In defending, he was too defensive. In trying to passionately protect him, he was overly emotional. His non-verbal facial gestures communicated that he was
losing it. In the same way, Burnett's antics communicated disrespect. The Yankees can spin it any way they want after the fact, but with cameras monitoring every move, professional athletes must be vigilant in managing their body language and verbal tirades.

Sports is emotional. Sometimes, so is business. All of us can learn from the A.J. Burnett / Joe Girardi incident and remember that while we all experience intense emotions, we are constantly being judged and our public brand impacted by the way we carry ourselves as well as what we say and the tone in which we say it.

I don't make the communication rules, I am just pretty sure of what they are. And last time I checked, acting out of control in a public arena never works. Denying it after the fact, only makes it worse. You would think the Yankees would know that, but when it comes to the communication game, we (and I definitely include myself) learn something new every day.