It’s amazing what being well spoken can do for a person. Don’t believe me? Ask Ryan Braun. The Milwaukee Brewers’ star, left fielder, was suspended by Major League Baseball for testing positive on a drug test. His test allegedly came back with a hormone testosterone to hormone epitestosterone level of 20:1. It should be 1:1. Yours is 1:1. Mine is 1:1. Braun’s was 20:1.
A funny thing happened on the way to his suspension though. A few days back an independent panel of arbitrators revoked it and reinstated Braun immediately. Even though Braun’s test showed higher levels than any other player in the history of testing, the suspension was overturned.
It begs the question, why? Even more so, it begs the question, why is the media letting him off so easy, even though the arbitrators have done so?
The first question is simple to answer. The 3-person panel of arbitrators was made up of one person representing the interests of MLB, one person representing the interests of the MLB Players Union and one person who was truly independent. In other words, the vote was tied 1-1 before any evidence was presented. The MLB rep certainly wanted to uphold the decision made by MLB. The MLB Players Union rep certainly wanted to overturn it in favor of it’s constituent. That left one person with an impartial vote.
That vote was cast in favor of Braun after facts about improper protocol being followed for the sending of the test sample to the lab where the testing was to be done. It’s actually a simple thing. The protocol exists to protect the players rights. It wasn’t followed. The arbitrator with the only vote that counted obviously felt this was important. Braun gets off.
The real question is why the media is letting him get off that easy? Why isn’t ESPN camping out at the Brewers training facility and reporting every time Ryan Braun coughs, scratches or blinks? After all, this is how the media typically operates these days. And for someone who has gotten off on a technicality, it seems tormenting him would be a fun way for the 24-hour a day sports media to spend their time.
The answer to that is that while Ryan Braun is a cheat, he’s a very smart one. And he has something that many professional athletes lack. He is well spoken. Many athletes are charismatic. Many are fun-loving and entertaining. Few, however, are well spoken. Ryan Braun is though and for him, it’s made all the difference. A good orator can convince even intelligent people that the sky is green, grass is purple and that everyone HAS to have a Sham-Wow!
Among the things that Ryan Braun convinced people of when he gave an impassioned and moving speech after the overturning of his suspension were these gems: He convinced us that the fact that he tested higher than any other player in the history of testing means that there was a flaw in the test. The reasonable conclusion from a high test might be that he was a more frequent user or possibly that he had just injected himself before the random test was sprung on him. Braun used his degree of guilt as a reason for innocence. He stated it well. We bought it.
Without coming right out and saying there was a conspiracy, he led us to that very conclusion repeatedly. He actually listed every FedEx location that his sample could have been taken to by the tester so that it would have been in accordance with the MLB testing protocol. He repeatedly stated that he didn’t know why the sample wasn’t immediately taken to one of those locations. He neglected to mention that while the protocol was violated—ensuring his suspension would be lifted—that the sample container was tamper-proof, that the lapse in time before the sample was sent in no way would change the results and that while he offered to take subsequent tests to make sure the sample was really his sample that there was no reason to do so because whose sample it was isn’t something that was ever in doubt.
And in his best piece of rhetoric, Braun made it about mom’s apple pie and Chevrolet’s. He challenged the Americanism of a policy that goes against the democratic principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In the case of MLB drug testing, once you test positive, you are presumed guilty unless you can prove yourself innocent. It sounds harsh until you think about it. First, this isn’t his liberty being challenged. He isn’t going to prison. His boss is suspending him from work. And he’s only doing so AFTER the person tests guilty for having done something that is against company policy. Does your job work on the principles of democracy? When your boss penalizes you for not showing up on time for your shift as shown by your time cards do you cry about it being un-American?
Of course not.
Braun also offered the fact that he didn’t get one degree faster, one degree stronger, one degree better as proof that he is innocent. He forgot to mention that with his sample testing as high as it did, perhaps we should be taking a wider view of his metrics than just in the aftermath of the testing. If he’d been on something for a while, he may have been juicing since the day after his last test. I’ll buy the fact that post-test, Braun didn’t get any faster or stronger, even though the only people measuring those facts is his own team who has an interest in keeping him on the field. I’ll also point out that Ryan Braun had his best year as a professional athlete last year. Overall, his numbers were up. He went from being in the top 20 players in the game to being the MVP of the league. I’d say that’s a significant jump in the metrics. Braun painted it differently though.
Two types of people proclaim innocence after being accused of a crime or indiscretion, the innocent and the guilty. In the aftermath of his press conference, all anyone could talk about was how convincing he was in his statement; how assured of his innocence he was and how directly he challenged his accusers. Player after player was interviewed and all of them spoke about how “stand-up” Braun had been. The talking heads echoed that sentiment. The legal experts spoke of only one thing though: The test was invalid because of the improper following of the MLB testing protocol.
Braun was brilliant. He got off on a technicality, but didn’t settle for that. He pressed the issue. He wanted his name back and he used his skills with speech to get it. It worked. It’s a dead issue. ESPN hasn’t mentioned it in days. Masses of articles aren’t being written about it. Braun spun the technicality into a presumption of innocence despite the fact that he still failed the test.
In the aftermath of his speech, several of the sharper talking heads noted how smart it was of Braun to constantly defend and protect MLB throughout his speech. He mentioned his love of the game and his need to protect that game and to place the game above himself repeatedly throughout his speech. Look for no further proof of the manipulative nature of everything he said than that fact. This man hinted at a conspiracy, he questioned protocol, he insinuated witch-hunt and persecution but above all, he wants to protect the conspirators and persecutors. He isn’t angry. He doesn’t want to crusade against the system. He doesn’t want to take the man down. He wants to protect the system that he feels acted improperly.
Does that seem right to you? Does that ring true? Or does it, perhaps, seem like a very strategic thing to say? Does it seem, perhaps, like he’s taking the high road, while actually putting MLB in a very difficult position if they wanted to pursue things further? Does it seem, just maybe, like a calculated move by Braun to step out of the corner where he was trapped and put MLB into it?
To pursue this further now, the already “un-American” MLB who presumes guilt until innocence is proven would come off as a bully. Well played, Mr. Braun. Well played.
Of course, if that much of his speech was obviously calculated and manipulative then how much of the rest of it was folks? How “stand up” was Braun really being? Maybe he was just saying the things that he needed to say to solicit the reaction that he wanted. Judging by the fact that we live in a 24 hour news cycle and Braun is already a non-story, I’d say he got the exact reaction he wanted. Wouldn’t you?
Now, just for fun, imagine a Latin-born player had been in this position and in broken English had tried to present this same argument. Imagine an inner city athlete had been in this position and he wasn’t capable of using words to so subtly and thoroughly move us. What would happen then? If those athletes had stood up for themselves they would meet a much different reaction. Some would say it was racial and cultural that it would be so. It’s not. It’s all very simple in the end. Words are weapons. Ryan Braun is well armed. And Sham-Wow should be his next big endorsement deal.