Column: Ryan Braun wins appeal, but reputation still not cleared

By Chad Hollis

On Thursday, Major League Baseball arbitrator Shyam Das overturned National League MVP Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Naturally, Braun is ecstatic about the verdict — he gets to keep his MVP award and will play a complete season. On the other hand, the MLB is furious. This is the first time that any player has successfully beat an MLB-imposed sanction and could mark the beginning of a new era of baseball politics. The MLB is trying to set harsher punishments for substance abuse in order to eliminate the problem from the league, and Braun’s appeal shows that the league has less power than it anticipated.

The MLB is still struggling to break away from the tainted steroid era, and Braun was supposed to be the face of the future. He’s a mild-mannered and hardworking outfielder who helped lead the Milwuakee Brewers to the National League Championship last season.

Now, Braun’s legacy is permanently tainted.

In Braun’s failed test, he had a 20/1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. Normal adult men usually have anywhere from a 1:1 to a 4:1 ratio. In addition to high levels, the test also found traces of synthetic testosterone in his system. To put it simply, Braun had more testosterone than Marion Jones.

According to ESPN, Braun’s sample was not immediately sent to the lab for analysis. The handler did not make it to FedEx before it closed on a Saturday evening and kept the sample in a cool place at his house until Monday morning. When the sample arrived at the lab, all of the seals were fully intact, and it did not appear to have been tampered with.

Although the collector made the correct decision, Braun and his legal team claimed that MLB policy states that the sample must be delivered to FedEx immediately after collection. Because of this breech in procedure, the arbitrator ruled in favor of Braun and granted the appeal.

I’m not claiming that Braun is guilty. I have no idea what would have caused him to have such high levels of testosterone, but I know he’s passed over 20 previous drug tests in his career. He adamantly claims that he’s innocent, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Yesterday’s decision, however, does not clear his name.

Braun’s case is very similar to O.J. Simpson’s murder trial. Obviously the stakes are much lower, but like O.J., Braun won because of a technicality. Although Braun avoided sanctions, he failed to prove his innocence. Now, for the rest of his career, Braun will have to deal with suspicion and doubt from players, fans and league officials.

Because Braun failed to prove his innocence, I’m starting to doubt the integrity of the MLB. I grew up idolizing players like Berry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rodger Clemens. I watched all of their games and wanted to grow up to be just like them. As each one became involved in some sort of cheating scandal, I slowly started to lose faith in the league.

When I was watching Ryan Braun last season, I saw a glimmering ray of hope. He could slam home runs, and his biceps didn’t resemble cantaloupes. He was a force at the plate but athletic enough to make great plays in the field. When I saw him play, I never once compared him to Bonds or McGwire. I thought we’d finally reached an era where baseball players didn’t have to use steroids to compete in the league.

Now, I don’t know what to think. If Braun truly is guilty, it proves that players can’t compete without some sort of banned substance. If everyone else around you is doing steroids, you have two choices. You can either get pushed out of the league because you’re not strong enough, or you can take your choice of banned substances to save your job. It’s easy to say that you would take the high road when you’re an outsider like me, but would you change your mind if your career were at stake?

Regardless of Braun’s innocence, we should use this decision as an opportunity to analyze the current substance abuse of professional sports. We need to remember that athletes are role models for millions of kids across the country, and we need to hold them to high standards. We need to build a culture in which we respect an athlete’s character as much as his ability to hit a curveball. If we as fans demand a higher standard, we can finally leave the steroid era behind us.

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