Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ryan Braun – Justice for no one

The Milwaukee Brewers training camp at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix begins in earnest today. On Friday, Ryan Braun met with the media, a day after he became the first MLB player to have his positive test for the use of performance enhancement drugs overturned. Major League Baseball expressed their outrage at Braun’s exoneration – just another day at the office for Major League Baseball’s drug enforcement program.

Thursday, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association announced that by a 2-1 vote, Ryan Braun became the first MLB player to have his positive test for the use of performance enhancement drugs overturned. During his appeal hearing that was held in January, Braun and his representatives didn’t argue the actual test results, but rather the testing procedure, suggesting that the “chain of custody” had been compromised.

Braun tested positive in October for elevated testosterone; ESPN revealed the results in December. According to an ESPN report, Braun didn't argue evidence of tampering, didn't argue anything about science being wrong, but argued protocol had not been followed. A second source confirmed to ESPN investigative reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada that Braun did not dispute the science, but rather questioned chain of custody/collection procedure.

According to one of ESPN’s sources, the collector, after getting Braun's sample, was supposed to take the sample to FedEx/Kinkos for shipping, but thought it was closed because it was late on a Saturday. As has occurred in some other instances, the collector took the sample home and kept it in a cool place and possibly refrigerated it. MLB policy states that the sample is supposed to get to FedEx as soon as possible.

"The simple truth," Braun said, "is that I'm innocent."

"If I had done this intentionally, or unintentionally, I would be the first one to step up and say, 'I did it,'" Braun said. "By no means am I perfect, but if I've ever made any mistakes in my life, I've taken responsibilities for my actions. I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life, that this substance never entered my body at any point."

Throughout his Friday press conference, Braun answered every question directly, never waving in his conviction that he had not done anything wrong. He never addressed the results of the tests or why or how his results may have been tampered with.

"That wasn't easy," Braun said. "There were a lot of times I wanted to come out and tell the whole story, attack everybody as I've been attacked, as my name has been dragged through the mud, as everything I've ever worked for my entire life has been called into question. ... I could have never, ever envisioned being in this position today, discussing this subject with you guys."

"We are a part of a process in which you are 100 percent guilty until proven innocent," Braun said. "It's opposite of the American judicial system ... so if we are held to that standard, it's only fair that everybody else is held to that exact same standard.

"That's what is at stake -- this is my livelihood, this is my integrity, this is my character, this is everything I've worked for in my life being called into question -- we need to make sure that we get it right. If you're going to be in a position where you're 100 percent guilty until proven innocent, [those responsible for the testing] cannot mess up. The system in the way that it was applied to me in this case was fatally flawed."

Braun’s positive test should never have been leaked to the media. (ESPN should at the same time be applauded for the work they did to break the story.) Braun’s suspension was overturned, but it was overturned on a technicality.

Major League Baseball Executive Vice President for Labor Relations Rob Manfred issued the following statement following Bruan’s press conference: “Major League Baseball runs the highest quality drug testing program of any professional sports organization in the world. It is a joint program, administered by an independent program administrator selected by the Commissioner’s Office and the MLBPA.

“With regards to the breach of confidentiality regarding this case, both the Commissioner’s Office and the MLBPA have investigated the original leak of Ryan Braun’s test, and we are convinced that the leak did not come from the Commissioner’s Office.

“The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun’s case acted in a professional and appropriate manner. He handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The Arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs – including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“Our program is not ‘fatally flawed.’ Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator’s decision. Neither Mr. Braun, nor the MLBPA, contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”

While Manfred would like the public to believe MLB’s drug testing program is a “high quality program,” how have the other 13 cases (the players who didn’t have their suspensions overturned) been handled? And what about the many minor league baseball players who have had their careers impacted by a positive test and a suspension from baseball?

There are no winners in the Ryan Braun story. Ryan Braun’s suspension was overturned on a technicality not on the results. But the actual tests results may still be a mystery. Did Ryan Braun use performance enchantment drugs? The skeptical nature of the world we live in will force people to look at Braun differently. That isn’t right for Ryan Braun.

For Major League Baseball it’s an embarrassment of biblical proportion. First, there was a leak about a positive test to a major media organization. Then those results were overturned based on a technicality, one that can’t help but create questions about other positive tests.

It won’t be easy, but the MLB and Ryan Braun have to move forward. Major League Baseball has to fix their broken drug testing system (one mistake is one mistake too many) and Ryan Braun has to live with the doubt people will have about the test results. In this case – no one won, everyone lost.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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