The baseball world is still digesting the stiffest (and most badass) performance-enhancing drug penalty handed out in the history of Major League Baseball. In case you missed it, Ryan Braun, of the Milwaukee Brewers has been suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season due to strong evidence that he received PEDs from Biogenesis of America, a now-defunct anti-aging clinic in South Florida.
Of the sixty-seven major league players who have tested positive for PEDs since testing began in 2004, Braun is the only one who successfully won his appeal to have his suspension overturned when, in early 2012, he convinced an arbitrator that his urine sample was improperly handled before being tested. Apparently, taking a sealed tube of piss in a car and then putting it in a fridge magically creates synthetic testosterone. Who knew?
During his appeal process, Braun, who had just been awarded the 2011 NL MVP, faced the cameras and the country and denied ever having taken PEDs, even going as far as saying he’d bet his life on it. And you know what? I believed him. Well, sort of. At the time, a bunch of rumors were circulating that Braun’s positive test had been triggered by a medication for herpes. The idea sounded plausible; ballplayers are notorious for their sexual promiscuity. Plus, several other players have been forced to wear the unjust but permanent millstone of “cheater” despite having only taken supplements they thought were legal, but actually contained trace amounts of banned substances.
Braun had a determination about him that made you almost want to believe him. Here was this young phenom who burst onto the major league scene in 2007 and never looked back. He was the kind of hard-nosed player who was easy to root for, and unlike some past players who have denied taking PEDs in the face of overwhelming substantial or circumstantial evidence, there was just something about Braun’s good-boy character that oozed sincerity.
What a difference a year makes.
Ryan Braun is a man who is now being called by some, the Lance Armstrong of baseball: an athlete at the top of his game who, to preserve his good name, was willing to aggressively take down anyone in his path with Dwight Schrute-like narcissism as his teammates and friends rallied around him. While many players in the past have denied PED use, seemingly out of fear or defensiveness, Braun’s denial, when examined now, appears, at best, pompous, and at worst, sociopathic. His apology, issued the day his suspension was announced, reeked of victim-mentality jargon, clearly covered in a thick layer of legal rhetoric to ensure his $100-plus million contract couldn’t be voided.
The fallout from Braun’s recent suspension has sent shockwaves of anger, bitterness, and frustration throughout the baseball world. A handful of players are now openly condemning Braun, with some saying he should face a lifetime ban from the game. Whereas in the past, a player who had tested positive for PEDs always had the backing of his teammates, it seems Braun doesn’t even have that now. It takes a special kind of low for that to happen to a ballplayer. Beyond family, a player’s teammates are his last line of defense once everyone else has turned their backs.
When the story broke, I remember feeling a number of emotions, most of them clouded in judgmental self-righteousness. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with taking satisfaction in justice being carried out, especially against a ballplayer who had arrogantly trampled on the game I love. But after wallowing in wrathful glee, reading article after article slamming Braun as the worst thing since the greenlighting of Sharknado 2, I couldn’t help but step back and look at the situation from a distance.
How many of us can say we’re completely innocent of cutting corners, cheating our employers, or wasting company time? Or if we saw a sneaky and perhaps unethical or illegal chance to get ahead of our co-workers and earn a promotion, who can say they wouldn’t be, to put it mildly, tempted as hell? And if caught, who wouldn’t be willing to vehemently deny, cut down others, and spew out whatever legal jargon was required in order to not get fired?
In Ryan Braun, as well as all other PED users before him, we have a guy who was trying to do his job well by taking whatever measures he could to perform it better than everyone else doing that same job. In the working world, that trait is called ingenuity. And yes, Braun took unethical measures to achieve his goal, but last I checked, in the court of public opinion, some guy named Donald Trump is well-respected and feared by many for doing just that every day.
Alan Atchison is the Co-Editor of Geek Goes Rogue. He is an Online Editor at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also pursuing a Masters of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, Hitting for the Cycle, a baseball-infused story about a couple’s journey toward parenthood amidst infertility. He lives with his wife and daughter in Philadelphia, PA.