What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
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.
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:
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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