Follow the Urine! Ryan Braun Makes a Kind of History

Something historic happened this week in the world of sports and, for once, I’m not talking about Jeremy Lin. Milwaukee Brewers slugger and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun, appealed and beat a looming fifty game suspension for failing a steroid test. This marks the first time in history that a baseball player has successfully challenged a steroid-related penalty.

“I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision,” Braun said in a statement. “It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side. We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.”

Braun beat the suspension because of a bizarre set of circumstances surrounding his drug test that seems like the plot of an awful movie that could be called Brotherhood of the Traveling Urine Sample. As ESPN reported, “The collector, after getting Braun’s sample, was supposed to take the sample to a FedEx Office for shipping. But the source 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.”

Yes, the reigning National League MVP and arguably the highest profile player to ever test positive for steroids, had his good name destroyed and it was all based around a piss test left in a cold, Wisconsin basement. As Barry Petchesky of Deadspin wrote, “If the procedure is so f—ked up that some dude can keep a jar of Ryan Braun’s pee in his fridge over the weekend, then maybe Major League Baseball should worry less about Ryan Braun’s appeal and more about a chain of custody that relies on a courier knowing the hours of his local Kinkos.”

The response to Braun’s acquittal by Major League Baseball has been nothing short of spiteful. MLB’s official comment was, “While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision.” Behind the scenes, they have been described as “enraged” with the arbitrator’s decision.

The US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygert said, “It’s frankly unreal. And it’s a kick in the gut to clean athletes… To have this sort of technicality of all technicalities let a player off.… it’s just a sad day for all the clean players and those that abide by the rules within professional baseball.”

It’s not just Major League Baseball and their professional urine brigade that’s up in arms. Reporters like Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News have made clear that, aqcuittal or not, Ryan Braun has not cleared his name. “Understand something: The overturning of Braun’s fifty-game suspension doesn’t mean Braun is clean, no matter what he says or how many times he says it or what he expects reasonable people to believe. He wasn’t exonerated. He was acquitted. There’s a difference.”

But as Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan also wrote, quite logically, “This, by the way, is how it’s supposed to work. If the penalty is 50 games and millions of $, the process better be PRISTINE.”

Baseball executives are sour they didn’t get to lower the hammer and are saying that Braun was only found not guilty because of a “technicality.” But as Gabe Feldman from the Tulane Sports Law Center wrote, “Chain of custody a ‘technicality’? It’s critical to fair drug policy, and is mentioned 33 times in the MLB drug policy.”

Major League Baseball is more upset because they need scalps to justify to Congress, sportswriters and the minority of fans that care that they are serious about cleaning up the game and drug testing isn’t mere window dressing. As the baseball writers dean, Peter Gammons wrote, after Braun had already been convicted in the press, “What the Braun test result tells is that the Commissioner’s Office and the players don’t care if it’s the MVP or a 4A utility infielder, they want a level playing field. Thus, in a sense, this speaks for the sincerity of the program, that it doesn’t protect the faces of the sport or anyone’s favorites, that Ryan Braun gets no different treatment than some kid in the Dominican Summer League.”

Very noble. Yet amidst all the steroid hysteria, is a person, Ryan Braun, who actually has rights. In baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s worldview, that means he has the right to shoot himself up with painkillers, chew tobacco and drink himself blind, but no right to use even prescribed steroids. If that’s the kind of world the union wants to collectively bargain, then that’s their choice. It’s a choice with which I disagree. This is just the cultural sanctioning of a war-on-drugs mentality that’s been great for the prison industry, but awful for the rest of us. I can certainly understand why players want the right to not feel like they need to take steroids to compete with the guy in the next locker. But Braun also has the right to not have his urine stored in a basement. He has the right to not have had the test results revealed before his appeal. He has the right to some dignity through this process. We don’t know in the end whether Ryan Braun is “dirty.” But we know that baseball and their drug testing system has deep flaws which should be seen as intolerable not just to Ryan Braun and Major League players but to all of us.

14 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Free Markets for Drugs?

Seems to me like Braun is the OJ of steroids. Yea he is "legally" not guilty but I don't think I believe anything he's saying. He made a compelling case at his press conference but I'm not buying the idea that either someone tampered with his test or that it being in a basement somehow diluted the test.

Is DZ suggesting that all steroids in sports should be legalized? I'm for the legalization of drugs in society but using this example as a way to say that steroids should be legal is BS. These are rules for the fairness and safety of the game. This seems like a right wing argument along the lines of "well is someone wants to earn $3/hr they should be allowed." And come on "prescribed steriods?" Who ya crappin? These drugs are for nothing but trying to get bigger, faster, stronger then the next guy.

You got this one wrong Dave

Dave, I couldn't disagree with you more. The facts are Ryan Braun's urine contained synthetic testoterone and was therefore "dirty". There was no evidence the urine was tampered with, a point even Braun's lawyers didn't argue. The chain of custody wasn't broken, it was only delayed. The person handling Braun's urine was a qualified professional who probably knew better than FedEx how to properly store a urine sample. MLB is upset because an acceptable practice, a tester storing a sample, wasn't written into their policy and was therefore used as a "get out of jail free" card
.
Also, I have a real problem with sports culture segregating athletes into "good guy", "bad guy" categories. I suspect Braun's defenders do so because he's thought to be a so-called "good guy". I wonder if Jose Bautista or Albert Pujols would be given a similar benefit of the doubt because neither looks like one of sports' "good guys".

More questions than answers

As Jason correctly states for DZ to use the Braun snafu to attack the war-on-drugs policy is just wrong. DZ criticizes the union for their drug policy but what would his position be? Does he want drug-testing abandoned because of the Braun snafu? And how would that affect the long-term health of the players? If concussion issues are being raised the NFL players wouldn't drug usage by MLB players present similiar problems?

To make a statement that the MLB drug policy has "deep flaws" has to be backed up by independent studies not just one case. Otherwise you get responses such as Lupica"s and Zirin"s which only reveal their own prejudices.

steroids?

I don't much about this case but it sounds like procedure was not followed. In any court the judge would gavel the case closed. I Braun another Barry Bonds with a testy disposition? I'm not sure they truly proved that misanthrop guilty. If I was Braun, tho', I think I would watch the ol' Ps & Qs.

correction

steroids?
I don't much about this case but it sounds like procedure was not followed. In any court the judge would gavel the case closed. Is Braun another Barry Bonds with a testy disposition? I'm not sure they truly proved that misanthrop guilty. If I was Braun, tho', I think I would watch the ol' Ps & Qs.

Posted by Dennis on 2/28/12 at 1:12 AM

Braun

Custody irregularity AND a leaking of what are to be confidential results. The second makes the first even more suspicious. To lawyers this ain't no technicality. To those who presume guilt--wait until you're on the other end of a charge.

Re:Conspiracy Brother

Whether or not Braun was dirty, there was a window of error opened wide enough to fly a 747 through.

That, my friend, is more than enough reason NOT to taint his record with a permanent black mark.

Yo Dude

It was Ryan Braun's urine, period. It tested positive for a banned substance, period. He deserves to have that TRUTH written into his record. The procedural misunderstanding didn't change those facts, period.

Stick to process

I am glad that this decision went to an arbitrator and is not conducted by internet poll.

The courier was a trained professional. He wasn't a very good one. We really don't know anymore that the sample was left alone.

We just don't.

The day may come when we can't really keep up with drug use. At that point, we may need to give up on an industry that will grind athletes into a gladiatorial machine.

I heard a fan once say "If I am gonna spend $35 to see a game, the least the players can do is inject themselves with horse hormones."

If it is coming to this, maybe the nineteenth-century anti-professional aristocrats had a point.

innocence

acquittal and innocence are the same if you bielive in the presumption of innocence.

Call the National Guard

Unbelievable! These defenses are getting more ridiculous by the minute. Heaven forbid Ryan Braun's pee be left alone. Lord knows there are people out there jumping at the chance to taint Ryan Braun's urine sample. I keeep synthetic testoterone on me just for that reason.

Also, I think we just found one of the 3 people in America that think O.J. Simpson is innocent, not just "not guilty".

Con Bro

"The procedural misunderstanding didn't change those facts, period."

That cant be proven. Period.


It has been proven

Like with all other MLB drug tests, samples delivered with the seals intact are accepted as proof no tampering took place. However his samples were handled, there's proof no tampering took place.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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