Before the steroid era forced his hand, former MLBPA chief Donald Fehr strongly objected to a comprehensive drug testing policy on the grounds of privacy. Most people snickered at his explanation, believing the union boss was using his concern as an excuse to cover for his constituents, but unfortunately, Major League Baseball is doing its best to prove him right. Since baseball and the players’ union agreed to a new PED testing policy, there have been a few examples of the league breaking protocol by leaking private information, but none have been more egregious than the loose lips that keep flapping about the Ryan Braun case.
Baseball’s drug testing policy allows a player to appeal a positive test before it is disclosed to the public, but in Braun’s case, that collectively-bargained right was revoked when the findings were leaked to the media back in December. Over the weeks since then, the credibility of Braun’s 2011 MVP season has been debated and his credentials as one of the game’s best hitters have been called into question, so even if he is eventually exonerated, his conviction in the court of public opinion will likely remain. Regardless of how compelling the mitigating factors in Braun’s case might turn out to be, their impact are unlikely to even approach the firestorm created when the news first broke.
It’s bad enough that Braun’s rights were infringed upon by a leak, but now it seems as if the Brewers’ right fielder can’t even count on a fair appeal. Once again, an “MLB official” has deemed it appropriate to discuss the details of the case behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity even though the process is still ongoing. According to the unnamed league source, Braun’s suspension is likely to be upheld because, among other things, the Brewers did not sign off the medical treatment that may have led to his elevated testosterone levels. Hopefully, Braun isn’t expecting a fair appeals process, unless the CBA calls for having the case vetted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel?
Once a final decision has been rendered on Ryan Braun’s appeal, it might be time to put MLB’s PED policy under closer scrutiny. Not only should there be an investigation into the rampant leaks that have compromised the integrity of the process, but even the spirit of the policy may need to be re-examined. What was supposed to be a vehicle to restore credibility has now almost become a self-destructive game of gotcha. Cleaning up the game is a noble agenda, but that doesn’t give MLB officials the right to get their hands dirty.
In Braun’s case, it could turn out that one of the best players in the game will miss 50 games simply because he was prescribed a banned substance for a medical condition. Some will argue that “ignorance of the rules” is not a defense, but that doesn’t give the rules an excuse to be ignorant. Based on the leaked information, Braun may very well have a plausible explanation for his positive test, but the rigid technicality of the PED policy will still treat him as harshly as a player willfully using a calculated steroid regimen. The MLBPA has no one to blame but itself for the absurd incongruity inherent in the policy’s mandated penalties because it signed off on them during the collective bargaining process. However, the union and the players it represents have every right to demand that privacy be respected throughout the process. Otherwise, when the new CBA negotiation comes along, the owners may not find a counterpart that is willing to be as cooperative.