Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
Bias off the bat: I don’t like the Milwaukee Brewers. I’m a Cardinals fan, I took a lot of satisfaction from the Cards beating the Brewers to secure a spot in the World Series, and I really enjoyed Yadier Molina’s “crybaby” celebration, a counter to the Brew Crew’s utterly lame Beast Mode gesture. So if you don’t want to read a Cardinals fan’s take on the rescinding of Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for PED use, I really don’t blame you. This is going to be about as fair and balanced as Rush Limbaugh calling for strict enforcement of three-strike drug laws while en route to the Dominican Republic to pop a sweet mix of Oxy and Viagra and boner up to some trafficked humans.
All that said, you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.
Here’s a simple (unfair and unbalanced) rundown for those who don’t know the story. Ryan Braun, the National League MVP, tested positive for the presence of synthetic testosterone. As a result of this positive test, he was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 season. Braun proceeded to appeal the suspension, and won his appeal, and a repeal of his suspension, on the basis that his urine sample was not immediately sent via FedEx to the testing facility. This is the first time a positive test has been successfully appealed, and the punishment overturned, and Major League Baseball is publicly Capital-P Pissed because this opens the door to later appeals based on procedural mistakes in testing and, theoretically, the downfall of anti-doping in the MLB and, as a result, the fall of western society, something something values, while privately probably not that pissed because Ryan Braun is an awesome baseball player and MLB’s success hinges upon the presence of awesome baseball players.
As a sports fan, I’m conflicted about PED use, particularly when it comes to baseball. The “steroid era” was when I checked out of baseball for a while, following other sports, but it’s hard for me to be sanctimonious about performance enhancing drugs when I really enjoy the NFL; come on, look at those dudes. Still, it was really gross to see top-heavy dudes with acne scars and giant, swollen heads crush home run records set by dudes who, at least in my perfect vision of baseball past, were constantly hungover and trying to look up the skirts of female fans (via Ball Four). I’ve kind of come to terms with the fact that for a period of about ten years, everyone was cheating, but baseball has always seen cheating to have some sort of charm to it, at least as long as you didn’t get caught. Scuffing the ball or spitting on it, corking a bat, popping speed (greenies) at an alarming rate—this was all accepted stuff. Part of the problem of the steroid era was that all of it was just so OBVIOUS. Remember Brady Anderson? Come on.
Then came the Mitchell Report, and Senate hearings, and Hall of Fame voters not voting in suspected users, and everything came back to normal. The “steroid era” was over, not really because anyone with half a firing neuron believed that people weren’t doping, but because they were at least being better about not throwing it in everyone’s face. Cheating without looking like you’re cheating means fans can pretend there is no cheating.
Which, longwindedly, brings us to Ryan Braun. Ryan Braun has always been seen as a player who “does things the right way,” one of those old sportswriter cliches I obviously really hate, not only for its not-even-coded racism (white players in just about any sport tend to “do things the right way” far more often than minority players) but because it devalues something really wonderful about sports: watching people do things most of us would never be able to do, no matter how hard we might work. This just in: anyone who’s a professional athlete worked really hard to become one, not just the Ecksteins and Welkers of the world. This whole “doing things the right way” thing puts a moral value on sports that doesn’t need to be there, at least not as often as it’s brought up.
Braun, though, has always embraced that sort of love. He’s said he’d never use PEDs, and spoke publicly about how A-Rod should just confess. In doing so, he embraced that moral side, and as someone who gets tired of that sort of shit, it was really enjoyable to see him get bitten in the ass by it. Glass houses, stones, all that.
Now, Ryan Braun is not guilty, and people (I’m including Braun himself) are confusing that with innocent, confusing that with clean. In a press conference that tested positive for unearned levels of moral certitude, Braun declared himself “innocent,” and “vindicated,” and “exonerated.” All this appeal proved was that the guy handling his urine sample was an idiot. There was no challenge to the science that showed excessive levels of synthetic testosterone in his urine. No one presented scientific reasoning that could explain how not mailing a sample right away could cause it to result in a false positive. While it sucks that the MLB’s testing procedures go guilty until proven innocent instead of the other way around, placing the burden on the player to prove himself clean, that’s the way it was collectively bargained. What it seems like to me is that Ryan Braun cheated, and now he got away with it. Many other players have done the same, surely. Sports fans know this, and many even winkingly admire it. So can we at least stop it with all the “doing things the right way” and admit that even when it comes to cheating, Ryan Braun doesn’t? He got caught, after all, and no amount of “not guilty” erases that.
Do I think Braun’s suspension should be rescinded? If the testing procedures were indeed violated, sure, why not? Does this mean Ryan Braun gets to mount a moral high horse? Absolutely not. Has he mounted that horse already? He sure has. You know who else did? Rafael Palmeiro. What does everyone think of him now?