If Albert Pujols’ decision to head west was a time bomb, Ryan Braun’s positive test for performance enhancing drugs was an atomic blast. Already facing the loss of Prince Fielder to free agency, the Brewers must now go forward with Braun’s pending 50-game suspension hanging over the team. In many ways, this has been a nuclear winter in Milwaukee.
Braun has not disputed the report about his positive test, but he has vehemently questioned its validity, blunting telling USA Today “it’s BS”. Since being informed of the result last month, Braun has taken several steps to establish his innocence, including having another sample tested. Although the right fielder’s representative has expressed confidence regarding exoneration, the appeals process places a heavy burden of proof on the player, so even with compelling evidence, Braun is facing an uphill battle.
There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan’s complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program.” – spokesman for Ryan Braun, quoted by ESPN, December 10, 2011
If Braun wins his appeal, he’d become the first player to have a positive test overturned. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be able to restore his reputation. Judging by the initial reaction, which has already been highly presumptuous of his guilt, Braun will likely have to deal with some level of taint for the rest of his career, which makes the story being leaked even more punitive than the potential suspension. In fact, the presumption of guilt has been so strong, some have even argued that Braun shouldn’t even bother protesting his innocence.
Regardless of Braun’s level of guilt, the fact that the positive test was revealed prior to completion of the appeal process is part of the story that should not be ignored. Whether the leak came from inside the commissioner’s office or the World Anti-Doping Agency lab that confirmed the result, the violation of privacy is unacceptable. After years of neglect, baseball has implemented one of the most effective drug testing programs in U.S. sports, but if breaches of confidence continue to occur, Selig could lose the cooperation he has enjoyed from the MLBPA.
If it turns out that Braun violated baseball’s drug policy, and did so either willingly or because of negligence, he will be deserving of whatever scorn public sentiment heaps upon him. Unlike the big name sluggers implicated in the past, players testing positive today cannot use the excuse that everyone was doing it, nor can they hide behind the league’s tacit approval. A positive test now is not only a willful attempt to cheat, but a blatant disregard for the best interests of the sport. However, until the appeals process has run its course, Braun deserves the benefit of the doubt. Just because baseball was slow to address the problem of performance enhancing drugs in the past doesn’t mean we need to rush to judgment now. Unfortunately, baseball’s inability to protect the privacy of the process has made that easier said than done.