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Media & MLB Failed a Test, Not Just Braun

By Mike Silva ~ February 25th, 2012. Filed under: Outside the Apple.

Now that all the information has come out and a decision made, what is the fallout from the Ryan Braun failed drug test fiasco?

Braun is the one that failed the drug test. He is also the one that has to play with suspicions going forward. Think it was hard to win an award before? Don’t be surprised if Braun never wins an MVP again, regardless of how well he performs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ever is eligible for serious Hall of Fame consideration, and that he gets the same treatment as Rafael Palmeiro.

The arbiter’s decision to exonerate Braun doesn’t convince me he was clean. Drew Silva (no relation) at NBC’s Hardball Talk properly points out the courier for the testing company actually did follow the chain of custody. It was late on a Saturday night and none of the FedEx offices near Miller Park were open (Braun disputes this). The policy on collection - which you can read here  - states that if he can’t deliver the sample immediately he should store it versus leaving it in a drop box. The courier testified in January the tamper-resistant containers did not have its security seals broken; the lab in Montreal backed up this statement. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO, Travis Tygart, confirmed that its commonplace for a collector to store a urine sample on a weekend or holiday.

Remember, the law in this country is not always about seeking the truth, but following the evidence to come to a conclusion. Sometimes there are technicalities that block the logical end to justice. It’s fair to say the arbiter, Shyam Das, let Braun off on a technicality. I am not ready to say that Ryan Braun is guilty of PED use and found a loophole to collect a mulligan. It’s hard to believe the Players Association, MLB and the USADA never thought of how to handle a scenario where a courier couldn’t find a FedEx drop point to send the samples that day. It wouldn’t make me feel good that my urine was stored at someone’s home, however the alternative – an overnight drop box- is far less ideal.

In the end we don’t know if Ryan Braun is really innocent. Personally, I don’t care since it appears the testing process still has a ton of loopholes. Former Founder of BALCO, Victor Conte, quoted an All-Pro NFL player he once worked with in a contribution to the NY Daily News; “As soon as an athlete starts to use drugs, they become a liar,” the player told Conte. ”I’d bet my life that this substance never entered my body,” Braun told reporters. The fact remains there was a test with insanely high testosterone levels. Since Braun also denied the use of any drugs to fight an STD, what exactly happened? Since the sample was held in a refrigerator and the lab confirmed it was sealed, why the positive result? All I could think is there was some sort of mix up when the test was conducted in the clubhouse. Could someone have switched urine? Put something in Braun’s drink? Highly unlikely, but again, Braun is innocent until proven guilty. It’s not like he will never be tested again in his career. If he is up to something, inevitably there will be another failed test. Manny Ramirez is a prime example of that.

The reaction of both MLB and the mainstream media has been disappointing. For as frustrating it is to see Braun not completely cleared, the statement by MLB  executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred was laced with bitterness “Our program is not ‘fatally flawed,’” Manfred said. “Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator’s decision. Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.” Instead of acknowledging the issues with the program, Manfred took an “us versus them” tone with the Players Association. It’s that kind of behavior that led to years of distrust, and inevitably, labor unrest. Something like this could undo a good deal of the progress both sides have made in their relationship since 1994.

The thought of MLB going to court over this situation is also very laughable. Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer who contributes to ESPN said it best when he pointed out how re-opening a case that is decided by an arbiter will set a legal precedent the courts aren’t interested in undertaking. What’s the point of jointly agreeing to arbitration and then challenging the decision? MLB lost and should use this as a learning experience. Clearly, there was an oversight as to how to handle weekend collections. Although Congress has more important issues to tackle, it would be wise to remind Mr. Selig that an anti-trust exemption could go away at any time. Personally, I would celebrate the day the legislators put MLB on the same legal footing as the other major sports. The anti-trust exemption was given during a different time in our country’s history. It’s unnecessary for a multi-billion dollar sport to enjoy its benefits in the modern business climate.

It was laughable for Bud Selig to brag about the league’s drug testing being “air-tight” when there is still probably tons of ways for PEDs to get into the game. In the aforementioned Daily News article, Victor Conte pointed out there is fast-acting testosterone creams and gels. “For example, a player could possibly use testosterone cream after a night game and then be well below the 4 to 1 ratio (allowable T/E ratio) when they arrive at the ball park the next day,” Conte explained. If a player wants an edge, they will find it. This is no different than the country’s war on drugs. You can make acquiring drugs difficult, and the penalties harsh, but you never eliminate it for those that yearn to use. The bottom line is the sport is much cleaner than a decade ago, but it will never be 100%.

The interesting outcome of this is that Ryan Braun looks the best of all three parties. MLB is acting like a spoiled child; throwing tantrums since they didn’t get their way. Instead of realizing we are still in the infancy of drug testing and using this as a learning experience, they threaten legal action in an adversarial manner. Mets fans wish the league was as aggrestive to the issues with their team’s ownership situation as they are with the Braun failed drug test.

The media continues to maintain a “guilty until proven innocent” stance on baseball players and performance enhancing drugs. They are the ones that leaked the Braun results. They are the medium that perpetuated the rumor of his use of medication to fight a STD. They are the one’s throwing stones. Seeing how some members of the mainstream treated Braun, I never would want them on a jury. You might as well send the accused “up the river” before the trial even begins.

We have to get past uncomfortable nature of PEDs in our professional sports. Players take various legal drugs to perform on a daily basis. There often appears to be a fine line between a drug that is FDA approved and one that is on the line of putting a player in jeopardy of failing a league-mandated test. Read the back of an energy drink you buy from the store one day and tell me what you see. I bet some of those drinks could potentially come up dirty in one of those tests.

In the end, Ryan Braun doesn’t look great, but no one came out at winner in this story. The media continued their “fake outrage” at PEDs since they still hold a grudge for looking the other way throughout the 90s. This is their way of soothing their guilty conscience. Major League Baseball showed they still don’t see the Players Association as joint partners by throwing them under the bus. It’s easy to show good character during good times. The true test of what a person or entity is about comes during adversity. MLB and the media failed that test, not Ryan Braun. In baseball terminology, everyone in this scenario “took the collar.”

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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4 Responses to Media & MLB Failed a Test, Not Just Braun

  1. Ken Bland

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he ever is eligible for serious Hall of Fame consideration, and that he gets the same treatment as Rafael Palmeiro.>>

    Let’s not get carried away trying to tell the future so far off. If Braun walked today, he’d be remembered as an excellent player, so at age 27, it’s reasonable to expect a continuation, so HOF consideration isn’t terribly remote. But with age on his side, and one helluva lot of testing forthcoming, there’s beaucoup time to resurrect his image. Long term, he’ll be fine. Now this year, he may experience some MVP backlash if he kicks it in again, but he’s easy to like, so long term, he should be fine. Course I assume he’s a lot more innocent than not in viewing his long term future positively.

  2. swedski

    I agree with Mike, no matter what happens Braun is ‘tainted’, by MLB and by the Media. When the writers do their ‘secret’ ballots for MVP or what not he will be passed over. It is going to be a mess in the next few years when HOF voting starts on the roids crew. I don’t like cheaters but in this sense what is cheating?

    1) MLB turned a blind eye to the ‘homerun’ kings, and it saved baseball
    2) The media (as a whole) never investigated this, or did any ig exposés, guess more coverage meant more jobs
    3) MLBPA never fought to protect those NOT doing drugs by demanding testing, again jobs.
    4) The players, well the better you are the more you are paid

    Again everyone is responsble for this !”#¤% up and it will never be solved, as long as so much money is riding on Baseball all around for all sides.

  3. Ken Bland

    Swedski writes…

    1) MLB turned a blind eye to the ‘homerun’ kings, and it saved baseball>>

    This is a commonly expressed view. I wonder if it has some myth to it.

    Was baseball that desolute at that time? No question the strike took some wind out of baseball’s sails in popularity, but the long standing tradition of baseball wasn’t so low that it was in trouble. The devlopment of gorgeous new stadia around the bigs may have resurrected the game into it’s current boom as much as the homer barrage. Competitive success at the championship level following the Yanks late 90s run may have been as much a factor, too. And even the Yanks run wasn’t so bad for the game. How many times have we heard response to a resurrected traditional club as being good for the game. Lastly, if the likes of Mac and Sosa saved the game, why has it continued to flourish after the cheating and alleged cheating in some instances was finally uncovered.

    Also helping is the nice way MLB has kept up with technology. MLB Network, MLB.com, and the broadcast availability of home team games to the many transplants has helped increase popularity. This might well have occurred even without the homer binge.

    No question, the homer barrage was an attention grabber. But maybe it’s given too much credit for saving the game.

  4. UncleMario

    Ryan Braun had MORE “Fake Outrage” than the media when he threw the courier under the bus in that press conference!

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