Brains over Braun
Issue   |   Tue, 03/06/2012 - 23:49

The Age of Steroids is upon us.

Today, doping allegations seem to be at the forefront of every sport. From the Olympics to the Tour de France. From the NFL to the PGA tour. The question of athletes “juicing” has become unavoidable and, seemingly, universal in the world of sports.
Still, no sport has received the scrutiny that baseball has. And for good reason.

In the past decade, many of the sport’s best players have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs: Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez. The list goes on.

Three months ago, however, we added yet another name to that growing list: Ryan Braun.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger, named the National League MVP in late November, was placed in much more undesirable company only a few weeks later when he tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).

It was a devastating blow for the MLB. Was one of the most likeable and talented stars really a cheater?

Braun, of course, immediately spoke out in his own defense, maintaining his innocence and promising to appeal the result. Last week, as a consequence of this appeal, the MLB overturned their previous ruling based, not on science, but a technicality.

Apparently, the test collector took Braun’s sample home overnight to store in a cool refrigerator, as dictated by protocol.

On the basis of this decision though, taking into account the possibility of tampering overnight, MLB commisioner Bud Selig let Braun off the hook.

By all accounts, it would seem to be a fair decision. Give Braun the benefit of the doubt. Right?

Here are the facts: Braun tested positive for high levels for testosterone. A person naturally produces testosterone in about a 1-to-1 ratio with a second substance, epitestosterone.

The MLB, however, leaves room for deviation, considering levels of 4-to-1 and lower to be acceptable. When tested, Braun’s level was at 20-to-1.

Furthermore, not only did he test positive, but additional tests showed that the testosterone in Braun’s body was synthetic.
Lastly, and perhaps most damning, the sample, when tested by the Anti-Doping Agency, showed no signs of tampering.

These are the details as we know them. And yet, in the face of this scientific evidence pointing unambiguously to one conclusion, the MLB chose to weigh the small margin of doubt more highly. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

To avoid the miniscule chance of wrongly convicting one of the game’s most popular stars, the MLB made a cautious decision.
I, on the other hand, am much more inclined to believe the facts.

Is there a rational explanation for Braun’s high testosterone level? Is there a reason the testosterone was synthetic? If so, why hasn’t someone spoken up?

On the other hand, are we expected to believe that someone broke into the sample collector’s home and spiked the sample? And then somehow found a way to replace the tamper proof seals in such a way that the interference could not be detected?

That is a whole lot of damning evidence. And, if there is a reasonable explanation for the positive test, I think that Braun would have told us by now. Rather than vaguely claiming to be a victim, he would have shown us proof to substantiate his innocence.
Perhaps he was taking a medication. Perhaps it was a mistake.

But, given how this situation has played, I think the evidence weighs heavily enough against Braun to stick with the original ruling.

Take the analogy of a murder trial. In the face of overwhelming evidence, would a federal court let a murderer go free on account of a small margin for error? Of course not.

There is always a chance of making a mistake. If this is how our decisions were made, we would rarely sentence anyone denying their charges.

In any case, the not-guilty verdict is questionable. Not only does it illustrate the major flaws in the MLB’s drug testing system, but it serves as a slap across the face to all clean players.

It undermines all the Derek Jeters and Ichiro Suzukis of the league, demonstrating that players can get away with bending the rules. If hard work is not going to pay off, that does not leave much incentive to play by the book.

That too, athletes are some of the most important role models in our society. Stories such as this one set poor examples for kids, suggesting that the rewards of steroids are worth the risk.

Ryan Braun recently signed a $150 million contract extension; regardless of his guilt, no one was going to take that from him. Such examples put an emphasis on finding loopholes in the system, rather than playing fairly.

Here’s the bottom line: the use of steroids diminishes the essence of sports. When we watch a walk-off home run or game-winning shot, we should be able to reflect on all the hard work it took to make that happen, not question whether steroids helped win the game.

When we watch an incredible diving catch, we should respect the hours of drills it took to make that a reality.

A “juiced” home run mean nothing compared with a single earned on a players’ own merit.

The MLB needs to fix their system, so we can focus on the sport and not look at athletes without the constant doping scrutiny.
Before this steroid era, kids would buy their favorite athlete’s gear so that they could play like them and idolize them; wearing Air Jordans to make you feel like Mike.

But, to play like Ryan Braun, are kids in the future going to bulk up on steroids? Is that what we are headed for?

Admittedly, Braun has not been proven guilty. That fact is that no one, outside of Braun himself, really knows the truth or how to explain his five times too high testosterone levels.

Perhaps he has been honest, mistakenly accused by the brains of the scientific community.

Or, perhaps, it’s brains over Braun.