What do we make of the news that Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP and a young guy who appears to have worlds of talent and charisma, has been suspended by baseball for failing a drug test?
Disbelief. Shock. An unsettling, “this makes no sense” feeling. A sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach that, in fact, the steroids era isn’t over despite what MLB tells us. I mean, Braun had already received his big contract, had already reached the pinnacle of his profession with an enormous upside, and had already passed any number of drug tests. His representatives say that he vehemently denies having used PEDs and will challenge the test and appeal the suspension, and that the drug test finding synthetic testerone in his system was some kind of aberration.
I don’t know about you, and I don’t know much about synthetic testosterone, but I have to think that it’s not easy to have such a thing appear in your bloodstream. And I find myself responding as a parent, and saying, “Somebody better make sure that Ryan Braun hasn’t poisoned himself in order to make a few more dollars playing baseball, and look after that young man’s health first and foremost.”
The problem with this response from Ryan Braun from where I sit is that these are the same things that so many other ballplayers have said when their names came up on The Mitchell Report or they failed a drug test. Manny, on his first suspension while with the Dodgers, made vague claims about having been given something by his doctor that must have triggered the bad test, and it was all a mistake. Ryan Franklin, David Ortiz, Roger Clemens…they all voiced shock and indignation that they had been associated with drug use. “There must be some kind of mistake” became a boilerplate response. Now, guilty or not, Ryan Braun unfortunately suffers from the association with and track record of his peers. Because of ballplayers’ dismal record of owning up to their drug use in the heyday of juice in baseball, he has been given a higher standard to meet of proving his innocence. At least in the eyes of this fan and member of the general public.
On the flip side of this, I’m not aware of a single MLB player really jumping on the OTHER side of this particular slimy coin, and coming out strong and hard saying, “It’s outrageous and disgusting and outright dangerous to take PEDs to play this game better, and I am inviting my colleagues, teammates and opponents to join with me in taking a unilateral stand against drugs in our game. WE WON’T STAND FOR IT.” Maybe Ryan Braun could take that position now instead of just denying the report from the drug test.
It reminds me of something that my son Joe (at 8 years old) said in TRADING MANNY: “What if a guy was elected to the Hall of Fame and then they found out later that he had used steroids? Would they kick him out of the Hall?” Will they now rescind Ryan Braun’s MVP, or re-vote? And who is going to reach out to the kids like Joe who are just now becoming fans of the game and reassure them that their heroes aren’t lying to them and cheating?
I doubt that baseball has the will to really make a stand against Braun’s drug test. They, too, hope it was a mistake and will just go away. Let’s wait and see. Like former pitcher and author Dirk Hayhurst said in his blog, one hopes that Braun is right, the test is wrong, and he becomes the first ballplayer to successfully challenge the test result and the suspension. Let’s hope that for Ryan Braun’s sake…and for the kids who have looked up to him. But as Hayhurst also points out in the piece, there is a huge temptation for a player to cheat just long enough to receive a contract that will make him incredibly wealthy and set for a lifetime…and then deal with the shame and scandal and possible side-effects later.