As most sports fans, and certainly those that follow pro baseball, know, reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers recently had his "doping" case "dismissed" by an arbitrator. Given the stringent new rules laid down in the (hopefully) post-performance enhancing drugs era -- after a "positive" test, this was a first in Major League Baseball. Until the Braun case, they way it worked was -- once you test up, you're going down. For 50 games on the first offense.
Major League Baseball, basically the prosecutor, was outraged at the decision. Braun, the defendant, felt vindicated for a crime he claimed he never committed. So who's right?
I don't know. Unlike so many others, from bar flies to highly respected journalists, I refuse to be caught up in what's going on these days. That being that once someone is accused of something, the common theme of the day seems to be to presume they're guilty. And that's not only wrong -- it goes against one of the fundamental precepts of our jurisprudence system. Presumed innocent until proven guilty. Somewhere along the way we've lost sight of that. To the contrary, nowadays, as soon as an allegation is made, everybody and their uncle becomes "witnesses for the prosecution", most times when they don't have a clue as to the facts in the case. And that's scary.
Let's look at what we know about Braun's case. His testosterone level tested out at over 3 times the limit to make it "positive". I found that strange. Braun's a very bright guy, and is certainly aware of the drug testing going on in his sport these days. Had that sample graded out at just a tad over the limit, that would have been one thing. But triple the threshold? Surely Braun would have known that amount of testosterone would not only have thrown up a red flag, but set off whistles, bells, alarms, and everything else. Something didn't smell right about that.
The person who collected his sample said he stored it for a couple of days in his home because no FedEx office was open within 50 miles of the ball park at that time. Braun and his people claim there were at least 5 such offices open at the time, all within 5 miles of the ball park, and further, one of them offered 24 hour service. Maybe I'm missing something here, but it would seem to be a simple matter for an impartial investigator to have checked all that out. I'm still amazed the arbitrator didn't insist on having that information before rendering a judgment. Or perhaps she did, but that information was never made public. But that wouldn't square with the collector's post-judgment stance of standing by his story. Surely, the MLB execs would eventually be privy to all the inside info, and if this guy was found to be lying, not only would he be out of a job, but likely facing prosecution himself. Why would he say such a thing that might ultimately expose him to such unpleasantries?
Conversely, while, in a sense, this was a first for Braun, the sample collector was a veteran, by his own admission having handled hundreds of other samples in the past. His job was to collect it, properly package it, and send it off to the drug lab in Montreal -- ASAP. That said, if Braun and his people were right about various FedEx locations nearby being open at the time -- as a veteran -- the collector should have known about it, and would have had no justification in taking that sample home. So who's right? We may never know, because like most other things that are media-worthy, this will quickly disappear from their radar. But somebody didn't do their homework.
That raises another question. Exactly where, in the chain of custody of such a sample, does an athlete cease to become a name, and become a number? Surely the collector knew it came from Ryan Braun, but the actual testers in the Montreal drug lab are supposed to deal only with numbers, so no possible bias, personal, professional, or otherwise can enter into the testing. Unless I'm missing something again, this responsibility would seem to fall on the collector. He can watch an athlete actually urinating in a cup or bottle, but once he packages it up and gives it over to FedEx to head to Montreal -- well -- who else could have put the "tamper-proof" seals on it after changing the name to a number? To take it a step further -- how does that number get changed back into a name when a red flag pops up? What kind of chain of custody goes on there? We don't know. Of course, there's the question of what may have happened to that sample for the missing 2 days before it was shipped. Who knows?
Finally, while I have little doubt I'm in the minority here, it continues to amaze me how so many can keep holding up people like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens as the epitome of bad examples, to compare someone like Ryan Braun to.
Here's what I know. Bonds and Clemens are innocent on any performance enhancing drug charges. Why? Because they haven't been proven guilty. Contrary to popular opinion, that pesky little thing called the "law" is still supposed to have some importance.
My hunch is that those very same people that are always in a rush to judgment when it involves others, would quickly change their tune if it was happening to them, their spouses, kids, family, or friends.
It's easy when it's somebody else. But that still doesn't make it right.