Based on how these things have always worked out in the Olympics and Tour du France, Ryan Braun is going to be stuck with his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test and his reputation will be forever tarnished. Fair or not, that’s been the reality in sports over the years.
This doesn’t mean that Braun wasn’t taking something for a legitimate medical reason. This doesn’t mean that he was intentionally cheating. But the Milwaukee Brewers‘ slugger is probably going to pay regardless. Remember the years-old case of the U.S. swimmer who lost an Olympic medal because of a cold medication? There is rarely any mercy shown in such situations.
Consciously, carelessly, or intentionally (and we can’t rule that out even if Braun has always come across as a good guy) Braun’s positive test demonstrated that he crossed a line. Was it a fluke? Was the test wrong? Is he guilty of a technicality? Most importantly, was Braun’s on-field performance aided by artificial substances that are illegal to ingest under Major League Baseball rules? In some observers’ minds Braun should return the National League Most Valuable Player award.
Braun just accepted the award a few days ago. He also made an acceptance speech. If some were expecting a confession, an apology, an explanation, they were disappointed. Braun did not verbally travel down any of those paths. The most memorable thing he uttered in New York at a dinner was, “Everything I have done in my career has been done with respect and appreciation for the game of baseball.” That may be so, but it didn’t clear the fog away from just what the problem is.
Baseball has yet to come to grips with records set and statistics collected by players who proved to take performance enhancing drugs, admitted to taking them, or are suspected of taking them. There has been a clamor for asterisks placed next to numbers in record books. There is also no clean and neat procedure for revoking an MVP award recently voted upon. Can you have a recall election? Can you impeach a trophy?
We have been hardened by the repeated assertions of athletes that someone must have spiked their punch or that the cow their steak came from was the one that ate the steroids. The believability quotient–never very good in the first place–has only declined over time. Braun may have had a solid medical reason for taking a drug that contained a banned substance. He may have revealed such a reason to baseball officials during his appeal, but may choose not to say anything to the public. Maybe he has something embarrassing that ordinarily would be none of our business.
If Braun innocently took a drug that he was prescribed for a genuine medical condition and has to pay this price in public shame, then we will feel sorry for him. But if we don’t understand the case, don’t know the particulars, the pendulum is going to swing the other way, hard, and he will be branded a cheater and be stuck with that label forever.
Purely on intuition I am thinking Braun did take an illegal substance for a medical reason without knowing or thinking about what it contained. It may or may not have given him any on-field assistance. But I think the suspension will be upheld and Braun will wear a scarlett letter for the rest of his career.