“The simple truth is that I am innocent, I’ve maintained my innocence since day one and ultimately I was proven to be innocent,” so Ryan Braun ended his press conference on Friday morning, his first since the announcement of his successful appeal of MLB’s 50 game suspension ruling. Unfortunately Braun’s statement is not accurate. The simple truth is that there is no simple truth here. Throwing out evidence on a technicality does not prove innocence…but neither does it indicate guilt. It’s a messy, ultimately unsatisfying conclusion to a situation that was highly unpalatable to begin with. But you know what? Life is like that more often than not. So, what have we learned from all of this?
The System Works…Kind of. Hear me out. MLB’s PED testing policy is supposed to flag all suspicious test results for investigation regardless of a player’s stats, paycheck size, seniority or personal reputation. That happened. When the National League MVP’s urine sample contained what was by all accounts a ludicrous amount of testosterone (and the alleged amount in and if itself is highly questionable in Braun’s favor to my mind, but I digress) the investigation began and proceeded according to the rules in place, up to and including Braun exercising his right to contest the eventual decision and go to arbitration. MLB did not agree with the decision the arbitrator returned but according to their own rules they must abide but it and they are doing just that. Whether or not you are satisfied with the end result of the process, you have to applaud the process itself, or at least the basic bones of it, for functioning.
But It Only Takes One Person… Prior to my current position, I was a project coordinator in the marketing department of a large mortgage bank. The legal requirements of marketing mortgage loans are, by absolute necessity, epic in terms of length and complexity…yes, even before the crash, contrary to what the media will tell you. So we created checklists for all of our campaigns itemizing absolutely everything that each piece of the offer must include or wasn’t allowed to include. And on those occasions where a campaign error made it past the proofreaders and out to the public, every single time, without fail, it was because someone didn’t follow the checklist. People get lazy and skip steps. They get bored and sloppy. They get busy and rush through steps. And/or they run into something unexpected and get creative without thoroughly checking the established procedures to see if their creativity abides by the letter and spirit of the rules.
I can create checklists all day long and MLB can set rules and procedures until they’re blue in the face, but they can only ever be as effective as the human beings who follow them. I can think of any number of perfectly innocent, human reasons the collector in the Braun case failed to mail the sample for 44 hours. Maybe he had to beat it immediately after work to get his kid(s) to practice/the game/whatever. Maybe he had a honey do list a mile long and some of the items were time sensitive. Maybe he was tired and just decided ‘the job can bite me tonight, I’m going straight home and will take care of Fed Ex when I feel like it.’ And who among us hasn’t decided something similar at one point or another? But the fact of the matter remains that he did not follow MLB’s written procedures and this is where the process failed. The fact that it sounds like this may have happened before and no one questioned it does not excuse or alter in any way the fact that it happened this time.
Okay, So the System Works Up to a Point, But Clearly it Could Use a Few Refinements. Obviously MLB needs to clarify and refine a few of its sample handling procedures. That and try to ensure that every collector on their staff follows them to the letter 100% of the time, which is basically impossible. See previous point about human beings and their habits. But I think it goes a little bit further than that. I think that the response to sample that raises suspicions of PED use should be an immediate, unannounced second test. Basically, one representative each from MLB and the Players’ Union show up at the clubhouse or the home of the player in question with a collector and the necessary equipment in tow and say, ‘drink some water or whatever you need to do, because we need a second test right now.’ This eliminates any concern that too much time has passed, or that the player had time to begin some sort of aggressive system cleanse after learning that the first test was suspicious – better for any player who is truly innocent and the victim of some random goof in testing, and better for MLB.
If a collector ever fails to follow procedures to the letter, the test should be immediately declared invalid and a second test administered. Why this last part wasn’t done in the first place in this particular case is beyond me. A swiftly administered second test would have save lot of headaches for all concerned.
Loose Lips Sink a Heck of Lot More Than Just Ships. Show of hands. Who else is sick of anonymous sources leaking confidential information? Yeah, that’s a lot of hands. I completely agree. We should never have known that any of this was happening. Because the arbitrator found in Braun’s favor, we shouldn’t know about any of this now. Enough with the loose lips routine already. No matter who does it and with what intention, in the end it just makes everyone look bad.
In the Court of Public Opinion, Nice Guys Get the Benefit of the Doubt. After watching Braun’s press conference I am leaning more towards believing him than not…and I honestly wasn’t expecting that. He was up front and articulate. He sounded deeply hurt by the whole situation, which moved me. And, really, a lot of what he said made sense to me, especially about the fact that his personal stats have remained consistent and that he has taken and passed numerous PED tests during that time. Now, nice guys and not so nice guys alike have stood up and lied to our faces about this very subject any number of times before, and there is no proof that PED use actually enhances every performance. Many performances to be sure, but not every performance. So I am not completely decided in Braun’s favor and I may never be, but I am leaning that way…and it sounds like I am not the only one.
Am I – and many others – giving Ryan Braun more of the benefit of the doubt than I would a player with less of a nice guy reputation? Absolutely. Is that fair? You know what? Again I say absolutely. We live in world where the perks for being a nice guy are sadly few and far between – an indication of severely reversed priorities a far as I’m concerned. Occasionally getting an edge in the court of public opinion because of a nice guy reputation seems only fitting. But here’s the thing about having a nice guy reputation, if it ever shatters the backlash is swift and brutal. The decision has been rendered. I sincerely hope that Braun can recover from this on and off the field, that MLB makes a few changes (that will benefit truly innocent players too) and that we can all move on and just enjoy the season. But if it ever comes out down the road that Braun was another extremely convincing liar…