The headline in USA Today called it a ‘‘big win” for Ryan Braun.
If avoiding a 50-game suspension because of an alleged drug-testing technicality is your idea of success, then, sure, have at it, you big winner, you.
But if having people forevermore look at your body of work with skepticism is victory, what does defeat look like?
Perhaps the Milwaukee Brewers star can set up a foundation to help educate the world on some insidious health issue. Might I suggest calling it BraunStrong?
The reigning National League MVP can spend the rest of his career telling people he is as clean as a whistle, the way Lance Armstrong has for so long. But he won’t be able to wash away the figurative asterisk attached to his name, the way Armstrong can’t shake accusations he was a serial drug cheat as a cyclist.
We wanted to believe in Braun, didn’t we? He was the smart, well-spoken, gracious outfielder who didn’t cruise through the 2011 season so much as he roared through it. He hit .332 with 33 home runs. It sure seemed like an ode to honesty and effort.
But a drug test scoffed at that. The Braun case was notable only because of his reputation as a clean-living ballplayer who had the ability to hit for average and power. Other than that, the case read like every other one involving an athlete who insists his failed drug test was a big misunderstanding.
Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone during the 2011 playoffs, and when the news hit, it was shocking. Here was the player Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had held up as an example of excellence through hard work, not through performance-enhancing drugs. Braun vociferously denied using synthetic testosterone and appealed his suspension. According to several reports, drug-testing administrators did not follow proper procedure in the delivery of his sample. That, not the results of the test, was at the heart of Braun’s appeal, the reports said. And the procedure, not the science, reportedly is what led arbitrator Shyam Das on Thursday to overturn baseball’s decision to suspend Braun.
Does that smell like victory?
Instead of sending Braun’s urine sample straight to the league’s drug-testing lab, an administrator stored the sealed, tamper-proof vial, which was in a tamper-proof bag, in a cool place at home overnight, then sent it to the lab through FedEx in a tamper-proof box, according to ESPN. And that somehow caused a spike in Braun’s testosterone level? Very, very hard to believe.
‘‘Today is for everybody who has ever been wrongly accused,” Braun said Friday. You could hear the cheers from Death Row, couldn’t you?
MLB officials and international doping experts were outraged at Das’ decision, but protocol hadn’t been followed. It was the equivalent of George Brett and his pine-tarred bat.
Braun avoids the long suspension and saves a ton of money. The Brewers have their best player for the start of the season. But it’s not good for baseball. Every time Braun comes to the plate, some segment of the viewing audience will wonder what’s real from the Brewers’ slugger and what isn’t. And the skepticism might spread: If Braun is using PEDs, how many others are?
The athletes’ own doing
You can hold on to the idea that drug testing in the sports world is flawed. You can cling to the notion that a conspiracy exists to ruin the lives of athletes by contaminating their urine samples. But we’ve seen over and over again that athletes will do whatever it takes to gain a competitive edge and cash big paychecks. And they’ll continue to do it, no matter how stringent the drug testing becomes.
This isn’t guilt by association. Braun’s test allegedly came back with a hormone testosterone-to-hormone epitestosterone ratio
of 20:1. The normal ratio is 1:1.
The truth didn’t set him free. A lawyer did.
Some Brewers fans will lash out at those of us who won’t accept the arbitrator’s findings, but we’re not the bad guys here. We simply have our eyes open. It’s impossible to view a drug administrator’s mistake as a victory for clean athletes.
So Braun will remain in the steroids team photo along with Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and all the other rogues who have professed their innocence to a bone-weary public.
He can rub and rub and rub, but he won’t be able to get rid of the black smudge on his permanent record. It will always look like an asterisk.