It’s not often that the world of sport enters into the news pages as strongly as the startling news that Ryan Braun, previously thought to be among the game’s most elite players, used a tremendous amount of synthetic male hormone to gain an unfair advantage in the 2011 Post-Season. Equally startling and inexplicable is the arbitrator’s decision not to impose a 50-game suspension for drug use by Ryan Braun, an outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, merely due to a perceived violation of protocol claimed by Braun’s supporters.
Least understood in this entire process, is that the arbitrator’s decision in favor of the athlete is not exoneration or vindication in any way. Ryan Braun took illegal hormones to improve his performance in the playoffs: he cheated himself and the game of baseball. And for that, he will forever be tainted and his chances to make Baseball’s Hall of Fame are slim to none.
The facts are these: A urine sample was taken on October 1st. It was triple-sealed to avoid tampering and sent to a Montreal lab that both the Player’s Association and the League agree to use. The test result indicated and still indicates that Braun broke the rules and should be suspended for use of an illegal substance. End of story. Braun was informed of the test on October 19th. The level of synthetic testosterone was three times the level of any previous measured test ever conducted.
We all want to believe Ryan Braun’s professed innocence in a news conference held today in the Brewers Maryvale, Arizona spring training facility. But as many members of the press and especially sportscasters and sportswriters are pointing out, every single player in baseball who said they were innocent were later found to be guilty. So here, it is a mere matter of time before Ryan Braun confesses he is human just like the rest of us. He erred. It happens. He should admit his guilt, take the suspension, return his MVP award and move on.
The most damning evidence against Braun is the vehement statement issued by Major League Baseball upon the announcement of the arbitrator’s 2-1 decision in favor of Braun. The League vehemently disagrees with the result. That speaks volumes. Major League Baseball has dealt with numerous cases of this type before. All have been successfully resolved.
In Braun’s favor is a 44-hour gap between the taking of the sample and its delivery to FedEx, a company that handles extremely sensitive material, the drug tests of all major leaguers, who get these tests three times a year randomly and without prior notice. Braun simply failed this one. The collector of his urine test took it home with him over the weekend on a Saturday afternoon and did not FedEx the sample until the following Monday. Unfortunately for Braun, the collector of the sample did in fact refrigerate the sample the whole time. So it’s tainting is less likely. It must also be said that it is difficult to prove your innocence. The best thing Braun did say at his press conference was that having to prove your innocence as is the case in Major League Baseball drug testing runs counter to the United States judicial system, where there is a presumption of innocence. And, it is only fair to note that if there were something wrong with this particular test, how would Braun know what went wrong with it after it left his body and was sealed up in the Brewer Clubhouse after a playoff game last October?
How would you show conclusively how the test was flawed or who tampered with the sample, when, and how, and why, if that occurred at all? It is an almost impossible burden of proof for someone defending their reputation and livelihood.
There have been cases of people falsely accused of wrongdoing. Not all murder convictions leading to the death house have been found to be just and right. We can only hope that is the case here. Even so, expect Braun to be booed lustily when he comes to bat in every city outside Milwaukee this season. The judges will be especially harsh in St. Louis and Phoenix where teams will be convinced the Brewers main advantage was a lot of testosterone in Ryan Braun’s system that gave him an unfair and unethical competitive edge in crucial playoff games. Ryan Braun now joins Manny Ramieriz and Alex Rodriguez as the third of a triumvirate of great players who cheated in order to win. That would be doubly sad if only Braun was innocent. But he just can’t ever do that. It’s impossible.
All we are left with at the end of the many long days for Braun to come is “Say it ain’t so Ryan, Say it ain’t so.” And we walk away with dread in our hearts and a tension in our gut and know it is.