By now, everyone knows that Ryan Braun became the first major league baseball player to successfully appeal a positive test under MLB’s Drug Testing Policy. Reaction from fans and analysts alike runs the gamut from angry that a cheater got away with one, to celebrations that one of baseball’s best players won’t miss a third of the season. Of particular interest to me is that many of the baseball writers whom I most respect (for instance here and here) are taking the position that the process is in place for a reason and that without those safeguards the policy would be meaningless. As a lawyer, I have great respect for the process and believe that we should abide by its results – especially when those results seem counterintuitive.
My problem in this situation is that I think many commentators are conflating two issues. The primary issue on the table for Ryan Braun, and by extension many writers, fans and observers of all ilk, is whether Braun deserves a 50 game suspension for violating MLB’s banned substance policy. After a properly conducted appeal, the adjudicated answer has come down – clearly no. That is a result we should respect. I would prefer to live with 100 cheaters in MLB than have one wrongly accused player banned.
However, the larger issue is whether the 2011 NL MVP used performance enhancing drugs during his award winning campaign and the playoffs. Of course, Dave Cameron is right – nobody KNOWS, and the point about confirmation bias is fair. But let’s not be willfully ignorant. Here are a set of facts that are uncontested: Braun submitted a sample. That sample was packaged up and Braun signed off that it had been properly packaged and signed. It then sat for 48 hours in possession of the tester before being sent via FedEx to a testing facility. There is no evidence that anyone but the tester had access to the sample prior to submission to FedEx. There is no evidence that the sample was tampered with, altered or even touched from the time Braun certified that it was authentic until it reached the testing facility. The results of the test were that the sample had levels of testosterone never seen before in a ballplayer, and that correlate with PED use.
It may be that there are explanations as to why this sample tested through the roof for PEDs. It may be that there is evidence that having a sample sit for 48 hours in a refrigerator rather than 48 hours on a FedEx plane in Nashville enhances the likelihood of testing positive for PEDs. However, if there were any of those arguments to be made, wouldn’t Braun and his legal team have made them during the appeals process, while simultaneously making the chain of custody arguments? If those uncertainties exist, doesn’t the testing facility have safeguards in place to confirm questionable results
Should Braun be suspended under the MLB PED policy? No, the process worked and his appeal was upheld – case closed. But unless you are going to offer explanations as to why that sample tested positive for PEDs, it defies reasonability to make the argument that “well we have no idea whether he used PEDs”. Actually, we can be pretty sure given all the evidence that have right now that he did – and I hope that someone can come forward with additional evidence that demonstrates what we know now is incorrect, because Ryan Braun is one of the best baseball players on this planet and a joy to watch. I hope he’s clean, but let’s not pretend we have “no idea” if he used PEDs last season.