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Braun PED appeal: MLB not starstruck
Want to know the strangest part about the Ryan Braun case? The best outcome for baseball might be if a three-member panel upheld Braun’s positive drug test, forcing him to serve a 50-game suspension.
That’s right, baseball might be better off if the reigning National League MVP missed nearly one-third of the season than if he reported to spring training as if nothing ever happened.
At issue is the integrity of baseball’s drug-testing program. Some will question that integrity if Braun is cleared, suggesting the sport maintains a double standard for its superstars.
I would argue that the program is working regardless — Braun is entitled to an appeal and should be vindicated if the facts support his argument.
I also would argue that baseball, by pursuing this matter with obvious diligence, already has demonstrated its willingness to treat its stars the same as lesser players.
A cynic might suggest the ESPN report of Braun’s positive test forced baseball into a corner. But the sport hardly is seeking an easy way out.
Case in point: Baseball could have minimized public-relations damage by announcing a decision during Super Bowl week. But that didn’t happen.
The dispute is not over yet.
Baseball is not backing down from its pursuit of a suspension, and Braun’s camp is not backing down from its original assertion that there are “highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan’s complete innocence and demonstrate there was no intentional violation of the (drug testing) program.”
It’s impossible to form an informed opinion without knowing the particulars of the case — specifically, Braun’s explanation for his elevated levels of testosterone. Even after the particulars come out, if they do come out, disagreement over their meaning is likely.
The arbitration panel — baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred, union chief Michael Weiner and arbitrator Shyam Das — certainly has been unable to reach a quick resolution.
ESPN reported on Dec. 12 that Braun tested positive during the postseason. Braun appealed upon learning the news in late October, and his hearing before the arbitration panel was Jan. 19-20. Baseball’s joint drug policy says that the panel chair “shall make all reasonable efforts” to reach a decision within 25 days of the hearing.
Those instructions, however, apply more to the regular season, when games are taking place. The parties can agree to extend discussions beyond the 25-day window, according to major league sources. The firmer deadline is Braun’s reporting date with the Milwaukee Brewers, Feb. 24.
So, the matter could drag on for another two weeks — and my guess is that it will, considering all that is at stake.
Braun is fighting for his reputation and perhaps his legacy, considering he is a potential Hall of Famer and that a failed drug test might damage his candidacy.
Baseball, meanwhile, is fighting to maintain confidence in its drug-testing program, which Commissioner Bud Selig routinely cites as the toughest in American sports.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Drug testing is as much about public relations as it is deterrence. Baseball adopted stringent testing more to appease Congress than restore fan confidence. The game’s rising revenues did not indicate that steroids were bad for business. If anything, the opposite may have been true.
Yes, baseball’s program appears to be working, at least on the surface. But the cheaters — at least the smart ones — are always ahead of the testers. The drug police essentially chase their tails, even in the almighty, barely scrutinized NFL.
Still, baseball needs to continue trying to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs, if only to stay on the right side of the argument.
For too long the sport avoided the steroid issue, in large part due to obstruction from the players’ union. Clean players suffered. The game’s image suffered. The message was awful, the neglect inexcusable.
No matter what happens with Braun, the sport is in a better place now. Not great, not perfect, but better, for sure.
If Braun’s positive test is upheld, it will demonstrate once and for all that baseball does not play favorites, not even for an MVP with a squeaky-clean image who plays for the team that the commissioner once owned.
Yet if Braun is cleared, it will not mean that the testing program is a sham. No other major league player has successfully appealed a positive test, and Braun only will avoid suspension if he makes a powerful, persuasive argument — one that the public eventually would need to hear for him to fully restore his good name.
Others will take a harsher view, saying that baseball will lose either way — lose if Braun is confirmed as a cheater, lose if he is cleared, creating a perception of special treatment. In an age of finger pointing and kneejerk analysis, the fallout does not figure to be pretty.
Well, let’s see what happens; neither I nor anyone else can form a proper judgment based upon the information currently available.
Maybe the Braun decision will stink to the high heavens. Or maybe, just maybe, it will show that baseball is doing its absolute best.
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