Ryan Braun. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Yes, after more than a year of vociferous denials, 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun has basically admitted to performance-enhancing drug use and been suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season.* For those unfamiliar with the story, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had yearned to suspend Ryan Braun for over a year ever since he beat a league suspension after an independent arbitrator deemed that his “sample,” which tested for highly elevated testosterone, was mishandled in transit. (I only wish Grantland Rice was alive so he could wax poetic about the odyssey of Bud Selig’s epic triumph over Ryan Braun and his magical urine.)
Braun finally decided to cut a deal after he was listed as one of more than two dozen players who received “treatments” at the Biogenesis “anti-aging” clinic, run by non-doctor Anthony Bosch. Rather than wait for a suspension, amidst a disappointing injury-plagued season, Braun said no mas. He also didn’t put up a fight because perhaps the best fighting union in the country wouldn’t put up their gloves.
There is a new reality that pits the MLBPA and the owners against those on the field who are tainted by accusations of PED use. Players can now be suspended even if they don’t fail a drug test, and carrying the mere appearance of impropriety now carries the Orwellian stigma of being guilty of a “non-analytical positive.” The MLBPA signaled last week that it wouldn’t be defending players who face evidence of associations with steroid clinics, even if the evidence wouldn’t last in an actual court of law. As MLBPA President Michael Weiner said when Braun announced he would accept the suspension, “I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step. It vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Program. It is good for the game that Ryan will return soon to continue his great work both on and off the field.” In other words, this is the new normal. The burden of proof is now on players to prove they’re innocent and no longer would the union invest political and public relations capital in defending those branded cheaters at the expense of players living “clean.”
There are certainly many who will cheer this development. Just don’t count me among them. My problem with the Braun case is that far too many people are applauding the union by setting up a false dichotomy: either the MLBPA will defend the small percentage of players who are found to be using PEDs, or it will disavow those found to be using and say that the role of the union is to help “clean up the game.” This is, frankly, twisted.