Ryan Braun has won the appeal of his 50-game suspension for a positive PED test, but because we all know about it, he is still a loser.
Although today’s decision by the arbitration panel will lift some of the cloud that has hovered over Braun since his positive test was revealed, you can bet many in and around the game will continue to cast a jaundiced eye at the Brewers’ left fielder. That’s because public perception is the real court room for an athlete’s image, and as soon as the initial test results were leaked, Braun’s chances of being truly exonerated were extinguished.
Like or not, Braun is going to have a hard time convincing everyone he is not a cheater. In fact, it seems as if his harshest critics reside within the hierarchy of the game itself. According to an official statement released by the sport, “Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.” Apparently, baseball’s lack of respect for the process extends beyond issues of privacy. Instead of quietly accepting the outcome produced by the procedures it put in place, baseball’s public disavowal not only cast aspersions on the arbitrators’ decision, but served to further tarnish Braun’s name.
Unfortunately, and incredibly, major league baseball officials didn’t stop at merely criticizing the outcome. They also resorted to clandestinely releasing more confidential information pertaining to the hearing. In an ESPN article published just after the announcement, an anonymous source revealed the suspension was lifted because of a procedural mistake, not an error in science or evidence tampering. The implication of that information is clear: Braun is getting off on a technicality, not because he is innocent. As far as baseball is concerned, two leaks do make a right.
To his credit, Braun’s response was more magnanimous. In addition to expressing relief and satisfaction, the Brewers’ right fielder also credited baseball for showing “professionalism” during an “adversarial process”. Of course, that statement was released before anonymous sources within baseball’s hierarchy floated the idea of a lawsuit to overturn the ban. So much for respecting the process?
There’s no zealot like a convert. For many years, baseball, and Bud Selig in particular, took it on the chin because the sport largely ignored the issue of performance enhancing drugs. So, it’s easy to understand why MLB would overcompensate for past flaws by adopting a Machiavellian approach to PEDs. However, in this case, the end doesn’t justify the means. Regardless of whether or not Braun knowingly used a banned substance, baseball’s conduct during the process has been reprehensible. From the initial leak to the sloppy way in which the sample was handled to the belligerent response to a third-party finding, baseball has trampled on the good faith it has developed with the players’ association. For years, former MLBPA chief Donald Fehr resisted increased drug testing on the grounds of these abuses, and now baseball is doing everything in its power to prove him right.
Instead of kicking and screaming about the outcome of an independent process, Bud Selig and MLB executives like Rob Manfred would be better served by authorizing a thorough investigation into how baseball’s drug policy is administered. After all, if the sport can’t be trusted to respect privacy and maintain protocol, the entire process will eventually fall apart. Considering yesterday’s decision by the arbitrator, along side Braun’s track record of passing similar drug tests, the right fielder deserves the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, after its conduct in this case, the same can’t be said for major league baseball.