Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ryan Braun – justice for no one

Wednesday morning on Boston’s WEEI’s morning radio show the Dennis & Callahan Show featured a roundtable discussion from the Red Sox spring training facility in Fort Meyers. The show ended with a question for the panelists if they believed Ryan Braun was guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.

ESPN’s sports magazine show PTI asked the same question Tuesday night. This after Braun’s positive test result for the use of a banned substance was overturned last Thursday. Ryan Braun believes he has been exonerated for his positive performance enhancement drug test. The media it appears aren’t quite as sure.

Steven Herz, The President and Founding Partner of IF Management (a “full-service broadcasting and marketing representation firm) addressed a number of issues relating to the Ryan Braun story, starting with whether or not Ryan Braun is believable in his defense?

“Ryan Braun will always have some people believing that he's a cheat and a fraud. Unless there is some new science that comes out that would absolutely exonerate him in the minds of the public, he has this overhang on his reputation and personality. It certainly won't be a death knell for his career (assuming he continues to be a star) and he may still be regionally marketable. Nevertheless, part of his allure, being the wholesome guy in the small town market is irreparably harmed.”

Herz’s thinking is right. Braun is a victim of a process that failed him. During his appeal hearing Braun’s only agreement was in the process and that the process had been compromised, therefore making the positive test null and void. Braun didn’t discuss the results, simply the process. He was “exonerated” on a technicality; however his appeal had nothing to do with the actual test results.

“We won because the truth is on my side. The truth is always relevant and at the end of the day, the truth prevailed. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed in the way it was applied in this case.” Ryan Braun offered after his conviction was overturned.

Dino Laurenzi Jr., the man who handled Braun’s samples, issued a statement Tuesday confirming he handled Braun’s samples submitted after an October playoff game, and that he stored the sample in his basement in accordance to MLB’s Comprehensive Drug Testing protocol.

“At no point did I tamper in any way with the samples,” Laurenzi said in the statement. “Given the lateness of the hour that I completed my collections, there was no FedEx office located within 50 miles of Miller Park that would ship packages that day or Sunday. Therefore, the earliest that the specimens could be shipped was Monday, October 3. In that circumstance, CDT has instructed collectors since I began in 2005 that they should safeguard the samples in their homes until FedEx is able to immediately ship the sample to the laboratory, rather than having the samples sit for one day or more at a local FedEx office. The protocol has been in place since 2005 when I started with CDT and there have been other occasions when I have had to store samples in my home for at least one day, all without incident.”

Braun is right in saying the process wasn’t followed. In his Friday press conference Braun went as far as pointing out the number of FedEx locations (five) that were open until 9 PM the Saturday night in the Milwaukee area where Laurenzi was when he received Braun’s sample. Braun also noted there was also a 24-hour FedEx available to Laurenzi within a 50 mile radius of where he was. Braun’s comments aside – is Laurenzi’s story believable?

“I do believe that the sample collector followed protocol and I do not believe he tampered with the sample. As far as I know, that was never even alleged by Braun. He erred by not going to FEDEX immediately after getting the sample which created at the very least the perception that something was amiss.” President and Founding Partner of If Management, Steve Herz told SBN.

If Ryan Braun is a victim of MLB’s testing process and its procedure, Dino Laurenzi Jr. is also a victim. Given the profile Ryan Braun has and that he became the first Major League Baseball player to have a positive test overturned as a direct result of how Laurenzi Jr. allegedly handled the sample, Laurenzi Jr’s life and career may have changed forever.

“This situation has caused great emotional distress for me and my family. I have worked hard my entire life, have performed my job duties with integrity and professionalism, and have done so with respect to this matter and all other collections in which I have participated.” Laurenzi Jr. offered.

Clearly there are no winners in this story. What about Ryan Braun’s reputation?

“Braun's image has been damaged...unquestionably. Many will always whisper (or yell) that he's a cheat. He'll never truly have his pristine image back. It will always be a postscript to his career and a sentence in his eulogy.” Steve Herz told SBN.

Ryan Braun has marketing agreements with Nike, Sam Bats (an Ottawa, Ontario based company), AirTran, an equity stake in Limelite Fusion Energy Drink, his apparel company and his Milwaukee restaurant.

"Marketers will stay cautious with Braun," said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert with Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco in an ESPN report. "He got off, but seemingly on a technicality. The damage was done when he tested positive, and MLB's harsh response to the arbitration verdict did little to assuage his guilt."

"But national advertisers will likely take a wait-and-see approach before considering him," Dorfman said.

David Schwab, the creator of Octagon Sports' First Call, the firm's celebrity acquisition and engagement division, told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that if Braun performs on the field as he has done, the problem will slowly go away.

"While baseball writers will focus on it, the public won't," Schwab said. "He was fortunate the entire process took place in the off-season and not while people were talking baseball 24/7."

When all is said and done as Scott Becker, executive vice president and managing director at Zimmerman Advertising told ESPN it’s tough to judge how much Braun has lost in terms of marketing and endorsement opportunities.

"There are very few baseball players with seven-figure endorsements. Ryan Braun is not at that level," said Becker. "Did he miss out on some deals? Sure. Maybe Ryan Braun missed out on a half-a-million dollars. Regardless, the bigger opportunity for Ryan is years down the road if he continues to perform at a very high level."

The problem with a media driven story is the message. The media is spinning the story by questioning Braun’s innocence. MLB has defended their flawed drug testing procedure. Dino Laurenzi Jr. who handled Braun’s sample has had to defend himself. There have been no winners and only losers in this story.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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