Friday, February 24, 2012

Braun not guilty but not innocent

If this were a criminal case, Ryan Braun would have won a not guilty verdict and been immediately set free. But that does not mean he is innocent.

Braun won his appeal of a 50-game suspension basically on a technicality because his urine sample was kept in a tester’s home refrigerator for two days rather than being immediately shipped to the laboratory. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve watched a lot of Law & Order and it reminds me of one of those episodes where a judge dismisses a case against an obviously guilty defendant because the cops did not follow the proper procedures in securing the evidence. In those episodes, the prosecutors often figure out another way to convict the defendant. Major League Baseball has no such recourse.

Baseball officials were quick to issue a statement expressing their vehement disagreement with the ruling, which now casts a major shadow over the drug-testing system Bud Selig & Co have expressed so much pride in. They take no comfort from the fact that one of the best young players in the game will not have to endure an embarrassing and costly suspension. Truthfully, I think Major League Baseball would much rather have sacrificed Braun’s career to protect the integrity of their system.

Baseball has to move quickly to repair the damage, including firing whoever was responsible for this egregious error at the drug testing facility. I find it so hard to believe that the sample couldn’t be shipped for more than two full days just because it missed the last scheduled courier. In this day and age, could they not have called FedEx or some other shipping company to request a special pickup? And why would a sample being taken so late in the day if making that last shipment was truly an issue?

As for Braun, he probably feels vindicated by his successful appeal, but those feelings of vindication will be short-lived. I do feel badly for him in the sense that his failed test should never have come to the light of day since the process was not complete, per the drug-testing rules both MLB and the union agreed to follow (as part of its review, MLB should seek out the leakers of the information to ESPN and fire them immediately as the leak clearly came from the MLB side—there’s no way Braun or the union would have made this public).

It is technically correct that the unguarded sample could have been tampered with at any time, making its results questionable. But what seems to be the more likely scenario: that someone who for some unknown reason switched the sample or that the outfielder simply failed the test? Complicating Braun’s insistence of his innocence is the fact that of three samples, his was the only one that tested positive. So Braun alone bears the burden of many people believing that he cheated and then beat the system, as unfair as that may seem. 

Thanks to shgmom56 and UC international via Wikipedia for the Braun photo.

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