Is Ryan Braun Innocent or Guilty?

Based solely on the outcome of the three-man independent arbitration panel that nullified Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for violating the MLB’s performance enhancing drug policy, one would assume that Braun’s previously good name should also be restored. The arbitration panel was presided over by MLB executive VP Rob Manfred, union head Michael Weiner (who shockingly split votes), and independent arbitrator Shyam Das.

However, the suspension’s being overturned had nothing to do with the original conclusion of Braun’s test or subsequent sample that he provided immediately after he learned that he had tested for “insanely high” testosterone levels. Via ESPN:

According to one of the sources, the collector, after getting Braun’s sample, was supposed to take the sample to a FedEx office for shipping.

But sources said the collector thought the FedEx office was closed because it was late on a Saturday and felt the sample wouldn’t get shipped until Monday.

 As has occurred in some other instances, the collector took the sample home and kept it in a cool place, in his basement at his residence in Wisconsin, according to multiple sources.

Policy states the sample is supposed to get to FedEx as soon as possible.

So Braun won his hearing because proper protocol was not followed. Aaron Rodgers chimed in on Twitter:

@AaronRodgers12: #Exonerated*

@AaronRodgers12: MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man. Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free #exonerated

@AaronRodgers12: When its guilty until proven innocent, all u need are the facts.#howsthecrowmlb #exonerated

As you probably know, I love, love, LOVE ARodg. His loyalty for Braun throughout this process has been admirable–if misguided–and backing others (he’s been a friend behind James Jones and Jermichael Finley’s backs as they’ve struggled with drops) is part of what makes him such a great leader for the Packers. But allow me to retort. There is a difference between not being proven guilty and being proven innocent. Braun’s appeal victory is the case of the former and NOT a cause for outright #exoneration in the court of public opinion. More on this in a bit.

MLB did not take its arbitration defeat gracefully. Also via ESPN:

“It has always been Major League Baseball’s position that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve nothing less,” MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said. “As a part of our drug testing program, the commissioner’s office and the players’ association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”

Taking this bit by bit, MLB’s drug policy is a strict liability which means that ignorance is not an excuse for a failed test. This was the case with Phillies pitcher JC Romero in 2009, who (allegedly…) took an over-the-counter supplement purchased from GNC which triggered a positive test. Upon arbitration, Romero’s ignorance was ruled to be “negligence” and the 50-game suspension was upheld.

It is probably for the best that the MLB has such a strict drug policy with no wiggle room for “honest mistakes”. If ignorance was allowed to stand as a reasonable defense for any crime, our nation’s legal system would be (even more) hopelessly jumbled. These players are paid millions of dollars and it is their outright responsibility to be acutely aware of the contents of everything they put in their bodies.

Rumors were going around that Braun tested for such high levels of testosterone due to STD medication. Like Romero, this excuse would not have #exonerated Braun in the arbitration process, even if it was true. (A debate for a whole other column is whether it would be better to have the Scarlet Letter ‘S’ for Steroids or STDs. Neither is ideal and it probably comes down to personal preference.)

However, because MLB has such a strict drug testing policy, it must follow its own protocol to the letter of its law. It failed to do so. “Vehement” disagreement  with Das’ decision is no different than if Braun had vehemently disagreed with the results of the positive test if it had been triggered by non-performance enhancing substances. There are transparent rules and they have to be followed to their letters. The tester had also previously failed to follow proper protocol on other tests and this improper behavior should have been recognized and corrected before he had a chance to mess up Braun’s testing process.

MLB players should be ecstatic that their union had enough backbone to negotiate this fair arbitration process. When former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was suspended for five games upon NFL entry due to transgressions which violated NCAA rules but no actual laws, his appeal was heard personally by Roger Goodell. How could players possibly hope for impartiality when their appeals are heard by the same office that dictates their punishments? If Braun’s situation happened identically in the NFL, the just outcome almost certainly would not have been realized upon appeal.

The MLB comes off as bitter and petty in Manfred’s statement when it should be accepting responsibility for its mistakes and seeking to ensure that they never leave themselves exposed as incompetent and negligent in this manner again. If proper protocol is impossible to follow, drug tests should not be administered on Saturday nights. Because of this, while Braun might not be #exonerated, he was not proven guilty. Ultimately, the collectively bargained system worked. As Americans, we would expect this in our own trials and the arbitrator ruled correctly for Braun’s suspension to be overturned.

*The # denotes a hashtag, which is a form of language used on Twitter. When you type # followed by a word or phrase (with no spaces or numbers), Twitter hyperlinks it and allows you to search for other users with the same hashtag. If enough people use the same hashtag, it becomes a trending topic. As an aside, most hashtag trending topics are either about how much sex other people are having or petty, but universal, grievances with the opposite sex. I’m not going to look it up right now but it’s a fair bet that #exonerated was a trending topic in Wisconsin last night.

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6 Responses to Is Ryan Braun Innocent or Guilty?

  1. Raffi says:

    Great article.

  2. bigdaddy says:

    are not STDs a greater threat to baseball cities than PEDs? bring back the blue bus.

  3. yerp says:

    I don’t think we’re seeing the whole story on the chain of custody issues. See Addendum A, Section XI-E of, the current drug testing policy. You’re threading a very fine needle by saying that storing the sealed samples in a basement isn’t within these parameters. It could very easily be that the ruling was based on the fact that there’s no established procedure for what to do if FedEx is closed, but I feel like that’s too tight a restriction for an arbitrator to overrule a suspension.

    Since there’s no public written report, all we have are “sources.” Maybe those sources aren’t giving the full picture. Is there reason to believe the sample may have been contaminated? Is there just too much fishy with the “insanely high” result in a guy with a history (before and after this test) of clean tests? I’d like to see this all on paper, but for now, all we get is sources and speculation. Pretty sure ESPN prefers it that way.

  4. bigdaddy says:

    arb decision in 30 days-no lawsuit by mlb, if at all, until written decision.

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