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How The Ryan Braun Situation Proves The Whole “Steroid” Debate Is B.S.

Once again, the issue of “performance-enhancing drugs” has reared it’s head in baseball.  This time, the controversy revolves around National League MVP Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance was overturned on Thursday by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das.

This set the stage for Braun to give a seemingly-heartfelt speech of vindication,  Major League Baseball to consider the possibility of legal action in federal court to reverse the decision, and the officially shopworn debate on the steroid subject amongst fans and the sports media.

So that you understand exactly were I’m coming from, I’m on record for a long time having said that the entire steroid argument in baseball is a complete sham.   Before the strike in 1994, every writer in this country was pissing and moaning about the “plodding pace” of baseball. Then all of a sudden came the barrage of home runs and the obvious steroid use, which was completely ignored by those same writers until they decided they wanted to destroy Barry Bonds.

You’ve got to follow me close on this argument, because I understand how the “S-word” drives a visceral reaction that leads to an emotional argument. I’m hiting this subject from a position of logic.

First, go back to to my original thoughts on the role steroids played in baseball. To me, the over-arching issue is that effect of steroids on the game has been hypocritically moralized. This was done by a bunch of writers and some fans who decided that steroids were bad because they tainted the integrity of baseball.

Tainting the integrity of baseball under Bud Selig is like shooting out all your lightbulbs so the sun will go down. The sanctimonious hand-wringing on the part of baseball writers who really want to believe Braun is guilty or “got off on a technicality” is almost too much to bear. Where were all these scribing Dudley Do-Rights when Mark McGwire suddenly gained 50 pounds of muscle and transformed home plate at Busch Stadium into a bigger launching pad than Cape Kennedy? They were conveniently were sitting on their pencils because the offensive explosion that occurred in the national past time in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s was exactly what they wanted.

Flash the clock back to 1995 when baseball was trying to resurrect itself from the fiasco of the previous year’s labor stoppage that killed a World Series. The writers were bemoaning the fact that baseball is boring, there isn’t enough scoring, and the fans won’t come back to the game after the strike. So, when the moon-shots started flying out of ballparks across the league, the writers could barely contain their overt giddyness. This led to fans flocking back to the ballparks, and Bud Selig couldn’t have been happier.

The part nobody wants to admit is that the whole steroid issue began as attempt by writers to disgrace Barry Bonds. Writers have a problem with players who won’t kiss their collective asses, and Bonds was notorious for treating scribes with utter contempt. When it became clear that Bonds would be the holder of the two sexiest records in all of sports (the single-season and the career home run marks), the press began its delving into Bonds’ connection with BALCO. But much like Dr. Frankenstein, they created a monster they couldn’t control. Next thing you know, we had Congressional hearings and the resultant “outrage” at the “cheaters.”

Now for the fun part…baseball has a long and storied history of cheating. Since day one, players have been stealing signs, corking bats, scuffing or greasing balls, and generally doing anything else they could to win. Steroids are no different. It is far too easy to “blame” the aforementioned offensive explosion on the hypodermic needle, but doing so ignores some key facts.

  • In the 90′s, Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, meaning 50 pitchers who otherwise would have been in the minors now were plying their trade in ”The Show.”
  • Several new stadia were constructed in the 90′s, and the vast majority of them have outfield fences and small foul territory making them very “hitter-friendly.”
  • Of all the players caught using “performance-enhancing drugs,” half were pitchers.
  • In other words, the increase in offense has several possible contributing factors. The emptiness of the steroid argument becomes clear when one stops to consider that from the list of players named in the Mitchell Report, there wasn’t a case of a player who suddenly became a star due to his use of “performance-enhancing drugs.” Players who were stars before the needle were stars after the needle, and “role players” remained just that.

Shakespeare penned the correct thought on this scandal 350 years before baseball even existed: Much ado about nothing.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying steroids didn’t potentially play a role.  The problem was that once the writers let the steroid genie out of the bottle, they couldn’t get it back in.  Now writers are crying about the stale nature of a game full of pitcher’s duels.  Now writers have created  an environment in which every guy who breaks a record from now on will be suspected of being a performance-enhancing drug user, and the guy who competed clean during the “steroid era” will be discounted because of the tainted time in which he played.

The trouble is the successful Braun appeal rips the guts out of the entire mechanism for drug testing, which in turn eviscerates the assumption held by the writers about the effect of steroids on baseball.

Before Thursday, I believed the size of the contribution “performance-enhancing drugs” has been dramatically overstated; just look at the aforementioned bullet points and tell me those were not factors in the offensive explosion often cited as the proof of the effect of steroids.  However, today, we now have a situation in which it is entirely possible the entire drug-testing program not only in baseball, but in all of sports is completely ineffective, which means it is now entirely possible there is absolutely no way of knowing the real scope of the issue.

This becomes a major issue because depending on who you want to believe, PED use was rampant in baseball, estimates happen between half and three-quarters of players were using something during the “steroid” era.  Does that mean it is acceptable to cheat and break the law? Of course not, but whether you like it or not, it has long been accepted that cheating, PEDs included, is part of the culture of the game.

Braun’s case marks the first time a baseball player has successfully challenged a drug-related penalty in a grievance. That milestone is going to have some serious consequences, because it adds some serious new wrinkles to the debate.

Before Braun, there were two big problems in the steroid moralist’s argument. First of all, if you believe use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is an offense worthy of exclusion from the Hall of Fame, at which point do you pound the stake in the ground which says “No PEDs Beyond This Point.” The argument already rings hollow because the “no Hall for you” treatment already has been applied to players accused of PED use before baseball had rules against it. After Braun, you have to legitimately question the entire drug-testing process.  Think about it…Major League Baseball couldn’t even administer a system which it created. If this were done by the cops, any defense lawyer would get you sprung. This means you have no solid way of determining beyond a reasonable doubt who the offenders really were; look at how many people were found to be innocent after the fact due to the ascension of DNA technology.

That leads to the second problem…the steroid moralists already have a double-standard as to who draws their rath. Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte largely have been given a pass; whereas Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds might as well have kidnapped and eaten the Lindbergh baby. And if that all weren’t enough, the fact that Manny Ramirez in as of this writing in the Oakland A’s camp should have the steroid moralists up in arms. Here’s the guy they could use to get the pound of flesh they want. Who better than the guy who clearly defied the anti-PED rule at least three times? Forget about the guys who were allegedly juicing before it was no longer permitted in baseball, forget about the guys who got caught once. Who would there have been better in baseball for a demonstration of “three strikes and you’re out?”

Rather, everybody is all wound up over Ryan Braun.  Getting lost in that “guilty or innocent” debate hides the real implications of what this appeal is going to do to drug testing in sports as we know it.  Without any speculation, let’s look at what this reversal means to any of the possible outcomes and the repercussions of each. Keep in mind, I’m not saying which of these are true, because there are only about four people on the planet who know the truth. I’m not one of them, and I’m guessing you aren’t either.

Possiblity #1) The test was tainted, Braun is completely innocent

This would be a “worst-case scenario.” Remember that all drug-testing in professional sports in this country is done as part of an agreement under collective bargaining agreements between league and the respective unions. Don’t think for a minute this wouldn’t become a huge negotiating point; this could mean the end of drug-testing as we know it.  Face it, just the money in lost salaries due to the suspensions which now can be claimed are based on inaccurate testing is going to be the “elephant in the room.”

Possiblity #2) The test was not tainted, Braun legitimately tested positive

This would make Major League Baseball look as dopey as the LAPD did during the OJ Simpson trial; they both couldn’t convict a guilty guy.  This would also likely mean a complete overhaul of the testing mechanism

Possiblity #3) The test was not tainted, Braun legitimately tested positive, but has extenuating medical circumstances

This one poses the most interesting possibilities, inasmuch as most workplace drug testing policies have exemptions for prescriptions and other results directly attributable to legitimate medical treatment.  With that precedent being set, if Major League Baseball decides to drag this into federal court, this could prove to be a major issue, since it was Baseball who kept claiming the suspension would be upheld even if there was a legitimate medical concern involved.

Possiblity #4) The test was tainted, but Braun legitimately tested positive anyway

The only way we are likely to know this is true is if both sides suddenly get quiet and this story fades away. That would only happen if in order to go forward with this issues, both sides have to admit they are dirty. This is where in the history of negotiations you get a back-room, “I won’t tell if you don’t” deal.

While you muddle through those possibilities, consider the other question that will invariably be raised by the Braun appeal:

  • How many more cases like Braun’s are out there that were never challenged?
  • If the problem is the process, how do you fix that?
  • If the problem is in the testing, how do you fix that, and moreover, what do you fix? Who is to say there aren’t all kinds of substances these tests can’t detect, or that non-banned substances can create false-positive outcomes?
  • There is already a known level of inaccuracy in testing. Is that level of assumption wrong, is testing far more inaccurate than we thought previously?

Then there’s the aforementioned steroid moralists. The very same people who created this monster are the same one who had Braun convicted two days after this story originally broke, and they are the same one who are asking question that presume Braun’s continued guilt; question like “Does Braun’s successful appeal for testing positive for a PED clear his reputation?” Notice the insinuation; that his reputation has already been sullied. Of course, that can only have happened if you were ready to play judge, jury, and executioner right up front.

Again, just for now, stay off the “guilty/not guilty” argument. Rather, look at this from standpoint of the people who have skin in the entire concept of drug testing.  As reported by ESPN, Travis Tygart, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision “a real gut-kick to clean athletes. To have this sort of technicality of all technicalities let a player off … it’s just a sad day for all the clean players and those that abide by the rules within professional baseball.” That sure sounds like a presumption of guilt to me from the leader of an organization that happens to be a major proponent of testing.  Even ESPN lends itself to leaving you with a  “guilty” taste in your mouth with statements leaving you with the impression Braun did in fact test positive.

Braun didn’t argue evidence of tampering and didn’t dispute the science, but argued protocol had not been followed. Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn that Braun questioned the chain of custody and collection procedure. MLB officials, however, argued that there was no question about the chain of custody or the integrity of the sample, and that Braun’s representatives did not argue that the test itself was faulty.

That paragraph leads you to believe that Braun and his counsel did not question the validity of the test. The fact that they appealed the decision means they did. See, it doesn’t matter whether you watched or swung at strike three; you’re still out.  All it means is that Braun’s representation thought attacking the process of collection was the best way to get the suspension reversed, and they were right.

According to one of the sources, the collector, after getting Braun’s sample, was supposed to take the sample to a FedEx office for shipping. But sources said the collector thought the FedEx office was closed because it was late on a Saturday and felt the sample wouldn’t get shipped until Monday. As has occurred in some other instances, the collector took the sample home and kept it in a cool place, in his basement at his residence in Wisconsin, according to multiple sources. Policy states the sample is supposed to get to FedEx as soon as possible.

But Braun’s team did in fact also question the accuracy of the test.

Braun’s representatives are saying there was a difference in the ph balance of Braun’s sample when it was taken at the time of the test and when it arrived at the lab in Montreal. A source said the director of the Montreal Olympic doping lab, Christiane Ayotte, testified during the hearing that it was not unusual for the balance to be different, as the equipment used in the field is not as sophisticated and accurate as the equipment in the lab. She also said she did not question the integrity of the sample and that it arrived with all seals intact.

That sure sounds like a challenge to me. Even today, ESPN is publishing articles questioning the legitimacy of Braun’s defense.  I get why ESPN needs to toe the company line on drug testing; it would like to keep it contracts to broadcast major league baseball. I also get they may want to protect all the people they had spouting about how guilty Braun was. The trouble is that all this stuff flying around in the wake of the Ryan Braun situation obfuscates the big problem. The plan enacted to solve the so-called steroid problem in baseball doesn’t work.

Instead of talking about how to fix this problem, everybody is hunkering down around a “guilty” or “not guilty” position which at the end of the day doesn’t matter, and many of those people are doing so because they already have a vested interest in which way the story goes.  That is the definition of bullshit.

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

25 comments on “How The Ryan Braun Situation Proves The Whole “Steroid” Debate Is B.S.

  1. chappy81
    February 25, 2012

    Couldn’t agree more how corrupt this sport has been since the beginning of time. It’s funny how it takes something like this to make people care about the issue again when, like you said, it’s a part of the game at this point. The thing I find most interesting is how the networks and writers don’t make a big deal out of it when a football player uses PED’s but when a baseball player uses them, the sky starts falling. Irresponsible either way you look at it.

    Like

  2. Bobby Charts
    February 25, 2012

    Great read JW, very deep, lol.

    I’m at the point where I don’t know what to going now! Crazy nonsense really.

    Like

  3. ChrisHumpherys (@SportsChump)
    February 25, 2012

    I like the fact that you and I both ended our Braun pieces with profanity.

    But I guess that just shows how fed up both of us are with this crap. Or maybe not fed up, just over it.

    I gotta tell you, man. The point of my piece, that I guess is most insulting about all of this, is that Major League Baseball has to think that we fans are all stupid, when, as i suggest, that’s not it at all. We just don’t really care about drug use in the sport as much as they do.

    Or maybe they don’t care anymore either and that’s why Braun’s pee got lost in the mail, or stayed in the fridge too long, or whatever the hell happened to it.

    The next straight explanation of what happened will be the first.

    Like

    • J-Dub
      February 26, 2012

      That’s another great point. The only person who doesn’t sound like they are completely full of shit in this whole story is Braun, and I will admit he sounds about 25% full of shit. But he’s the only one whose BS doesn’t sound like it was intended to cover his own ass. Did you catach all the people who are blaming the collection guy for not putting the stuff in the mail in time sure seem to be making sure nobody askes the question about the actual validity of the test. Sure sets off my radar…

      Like

  4. Sam's Sports Brief
    February 26, 2012

    Personally, I think Braun should serve the 50-game suspension. A zero-tolerance policy is best for sure, a player is 100% responsible for what goes into his/her body, and no matter what, must serve the consequences that come with irresponsibility.

    Like

    • Sam's Sports Brief
      February 26, 2012

      A good analogy is penalties. If an offensive lineman commits a false start, he did it on accident, like Braun supposedly did with a PED. Both serve the consequences.

      Like

      • J-Dub
        February 26, 2012

        You have two major problems here. First, you sound like you are assuming that Braun actually did something wrong. You have nothing to base that on now. I get there’s people trying to say this “was just a technicality,” but that is all coming from people who have a vested interest in blaming the process rather than the actual validity of the test, both of which now have to be legitimately questioned.

        Secondly, Chappy raises an excellent point. Why is there all this righteous indignation about PEDs in baseball, while nobody cares in football? Remember when Brian Cushing won Defensive Rookie of the Year, then tested positive? Remember how they took away the award, had another vote, and he won it again?

        I said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is all a bunch of bullshit.

        Like

  5. Sam's Sports Brief
    February 26, 2012

    I know that I sound like he did something wrong, but, he did take a positive test, and there’s a reason why it was positive.

    Like

    • J-Dub
      February 26, 2012

      What’s the reason? You happen to know for sure the test, which was successfully challenged, was valid? You are still dealing from a position that says the test was legitimately valid, which can no longer be said to be the case.

      I don’t happen to buy the lab people telling me that the extra time doesn’t change the accuracy of the test. If that were the case, then why were they time-based guidelines in the first place? They happen to sound like they are covering for something. But that’s just speculation…

      Rather, I’m curious to hear your answer to the question as to why nobody cares about this subject when it comes to football?

      Like

      • Sam's Sports Brief
        February 26, 2012

        I think the main reason that nobody cares about it when it comes to football is because since the “Mitchell Report,” all the steroid talk has been about baseball. I wrote about this a while back…

        Like

      • J-Dub
        February 26, 2012

        Sorry, but I gotta call BS on that. The whole Brian Cushing thing happened after the Mitchell Report. The trial over what happened with PEDs and Pat and Kevin Williams with Minnesota Vikings happened after the Mitchell Report.

        Like

      • chappy81
        February 27, 2012

        I’d say the reason nobody cares about it in football is it’s more of a gladiator sport. People forgive others who are just trying to stay healthier or get as big as their competition in what we’d deem a tougher environment to work in. Plus in football any play can get called back because of a holding penalty or whatever, in baseball once you hit a home run it’s a home run forever.

        Like

      • J-Dub
        February 27, 2012

        So, its OK to cheat in one sport, but not another. Still calling B.S.

        Like

      • chappy81
        February 27, 2012

        Honestly, I think it’s okay in both sports since many don’t care anymore about baseball roid issues. Like you said it’s the writers that make it a bigger deal. I was trying to give some explanation as to why some people’s train of thought might be less inclined to care about football PED’s…

        Like

      • J-Dub
        February 27, 2012

        Trust me, Chap, I hear what you are saying, and I think you are right for the most part. It is the writers I have the biggest B.S, call out for, as they are the ones who created this situation, they are the ones who literally got this made into a federal case (more than once),and it was those very same writers who showed their hypocrisy with the Brian Cushing situation in football. They’ll keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame before steroids were illegal in baseball, but a guy who pisses “hot” in the NFL get re-elected Rookie of the Year. Pure, uncut, 100% pure, USDA Grade A bullshit.

        Like

  6. Blog Surface
    February 26, 2012

    Great article JW! You’re definitely taking it way back, but I respect your point and I agree as well. For a while, back in the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa days, it seemed like home runs were the only thing writers and fans were worried about. The home run record was the main focus and no one cared about how the players were all of sudden being able to perform at this extreme level. Media, especially Selig turned the cheek because MLB was receiving so much exposure. Many good things don’t last and now the league is paying for it dearly.

    Like

  7. MLB doesn’t have a leg to stand on either way.

    I have to be honest man, my interest in baseball couldn’t be any lower than it is right now.

    He may or may not have tested positive. But as you’re saying, either way it’s bullshit. At this point I think the league officials are essentially just wasting paper to write any of this stuff down.

    In a completely unrelated discussion, fuck Nathan Hale.

    Meehan

    Like

    • J-Dub
      February 27, 2012

      A lot of people don’t know that Nathan Hale was mis-quoted when he said “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

      What he really said was “I regret that I have but one WIFE to give for my country, because I’d have all of them give blowjobs to the enitre British Army. I’d do anything to save my neck!”

      Like

  8. fantasyfurnace
    February 27, 2012

    Braun’s attorneys argued about the lack of ‘protocol’, not whether or why Braun’s piss had obscene levels of testaterone. If this happened to ME and I knew damn well that I was totally innocent, (like the way Braun professed at his lame & structured news conference), then there would have been only ONE way to prove it. Submit another urine sample. PED’s stay in the blood anywhere from 3-5 months. All Braun had to do, IF he was indeed innocent, was to just pee again and prove to everyone that it doesn’t matter about protocol, what time FedEx closes, nor the fridge temperature in Wisconsin where the urine was
    stored.

    Like

    • J-Dub
      February 27, 2012

      I get what you are saying, but your argument has too many assumptions, ignores a couple of crucial facts, but most importantly it misses the entire point.

      First of all, where are you sending this additional test? For MLB to even consider it as valid (as per terms of the CBA in which this testing is done) the sample has to go to the lab they choose. If you really are innocent, you know that lab already screwed up one test; sending them another one also offers an opportunity for them to mis-label you twice.

      You can’t send it to an unapproved lab because MLB (and ultimately the arbitrator who resolves these disputes) won’t accept it, besides, I’m sure it isn’t too hard to get an independent lab to come up with any result I want.

      Then there’s the fact that no lawyer in the world with any brains is going to let you play the “do-over” card on the test, and there’s two reasons for that. First, it makes you look even more guilty in the long run. Think about it…no matter what, you have to challenge the validity of the first test. As it stands on the original test, the burden of proof is still on MLB, not you. Once you introduce another test, then MLB can now say you are offering a “doctored” test, and now you have to prove that’s not true. Best case scenario is a “he said, she said” stand-off which gets you nowhere. Secondly, you are contractually obligated to follow the testing procedure as outlined by MLB, so there’s likely no way you can even get the second test into a discussion with an arbitrator.

      I understand that is a lot of legal-ese, which is exactly why I stayed out of this with my four original possibilities. I’ve already heard far too many differing sets if information as to the actual mechanics of testing (how long what stays detectable, accuracy of certain kinds of testing, blah blah blah…); we could spend 40 years going back and forth on that. The whole point of this piece isn’t to get that “guilty or innocent” debate because that just hides the real implications of what this appeal is going to do to drug testing in sports as we know it.

      To top it all off, the big question still stands: Why nobody cares about this subject when it comes to football?

      Like

  9. fantasyfurnace
    February 27, 2012

    The more bizarre addendum to this whole sad story is this. At least Bonds, McQwire, Sosa and Clemens (to name just a few) all had career years from their experiences with PED’S. Their stats continued to ascend not moderate or decline. Not Braun…Yes he won the N.L. MVP, but look at his numbers. He didn’t have more home runs or rbis than ever before in his career. Yes, his stolen bases doubled. That’s it…
    So assuming he’s been randomly tested over the years, either he’s been on the juice for his entire career & never been caught or the crap is just not working! His HRS are about the same as they were 5 years ago! So what’s the point?

    Like

    • J-Dub
      February 27, 2012

      That goes exactly to my point early in the article about how steroids aren’t this “miracle guarantee” of superman-like performance. To accept that argument is to ignore some major contributing factors.

      Like

  10. Pingback: Finally, Someone Else Gets It, Part II – The Ryan Braun Situation, “Osama” Bud Selig and “Chemical McCarthyism” « Dubsism

  11. JohnDoe
    July 23, 2012

    Steroids are a PED. The bottom line is if a legitimate test comes back positive then the player should suffer the consequences, a 0 tolerance policy should always apply.
    It is the sporting organisations responsibility to ensure any tests carried out are done so legitimately and fall within certain best practice guidelines, if the tests do not fall into those guidelines than the sporting organisation is at fault and the test result should be void. (Even if the test was positive)

    Your article seems to try and dilute the fact that the use of steroids are and always will be considered cheating, no matter what fans want, no matter what writers want, no matter what ESPN want….Steroids are a PED and should never be acceptable in any sport other than “Body building”.

    PS – I dont follow baseball, never have, in fact I have never even seen a game of baseball, but that doesn’t matter, the issue of Steroids being used in sport is not specific to baseball,it is an issue of “Sportsmanship” applicable to every competition.

    Like

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