MLB Coverage: Ryan Braun & Role Models

The first dominoes have fallen for major league baseball in two awaited developments, one of them serious, the other a little more fun. The first, of course is the suspension of Milwaukee Brewers’ left fielder Ryan Braun for the balance of the season for his ties to the BioGenesis clinic in Miami and use of PEDs.

The second development would normally be the big news in baseball at this time of year, but was relegated to a footnote yesterday and it’s that the Texas Rangers acquired starting pitcher Matt Garza.

We’re reasonably certain there’s more suspensions coming, and we’re all but certain there are more trades coming, so I’m going to hold off on a really in-depth look at this until we have a composite picture. But here are some initial thoughts, starting with Braun…

*I live thirty miles west of Milwaukee, and while I’m not a Brewer fan, I am sympathetic to the organization and obviously have a lot of family and friends who do back the team. If the early reaction I’ve heard is indicative of the overall fan base, there will be no blind backing of Braun. People are furious with him for the same reason everyone else in baseball is—that he lied to them.

*But on that point, I want to return to the circumstances surrounding how Braun won his original appeal. I believe he should have won it, and frankly I have not changed my mind. The collector who took the urine sample kept it at his house over the weekend before shipping it to the clinic, and that was the irregularity Braun’s legal team used to get him off the hook.

This was the correct decision then and it remains the correct decision now. A procedure is put in place for a reason and it’s to ensure the integrity of the entire testing process. If this sort of delay in shipping samples became accepted, what’s to stop tampering? What’s to stop the sample itself from being tainted just through excess exposure?

I know it’s not a popular opinion, because this morning one of the sub-plots to all this is that the collector, who was fired, was supposedly a victim. I disagree. I view his actions as being akin to a cop who barges into the house of a drug dealer without a warrant. It’s the cop’s own incompetence that costs the state the case because we believe in the long-term value of upholding the integrity of the process.

In the aftermath of that ruling, I gave Braun the benefit of the doubt, since this tainted process was the only test he failed, though I never ruled out that he might be guilty and just off on a technicality. If anything, the whole BioGenesis saga has confirmed my view that cheaters eventually got caught—whether it’s enough to convict, as it was here, or it becomes merely obvious enough to win the battle of public opinion—as in the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—the truth eventually comes out.

I would used this same logic to questions that reasonably circulate regarding the power surge of Baltimore’s Chris Davis, or anyone else you might be suspicious of. You can give the player the benefit of the doubt for the short-term and if they make it to the end of their career without ever being connected to PEDs, then they’re clean. If they’re not, it will come out eventually.

All in all, the whole Braun situation is another reminder that maybe Charles Barkley was right on his Nike ads back in the early 1990s when he said “I am not a role model. My job is not to raise your kids.” Critics saw it as an athlete forsaking social responsibility. But when our sole basis for making someone a role model is that they’re good at a sport, what does that say?

It’s great when a player works hard, makes the most of his talent and seems to be a reasonably decent person off the field. I like rooting for those players as much as anyone. But “role model” is a much higher bar, and I would argue that making millions playing a game does not qualify.

I love sports, as the raw volume of content on this website shows. And a player I like a great deal right now is Robert Griffin III. He’s the quarterback who rescued my favorite team in the Redskins and he seems like a pretty good guy off the field. But let me stand that side-by-side against a nun I know in Pittsburgh. She runs a bookstore in a fairly poor part of town, counsels people who come in for guidance, has very little in the way of material wealth and once stared down an armed robber with the words “Do you really want to do this?” I trust it will not be seen as a knock on RG3 when I say that I’ll go in the nun’s direction as far as a role model goes.

As the other suspensions in the BioGenesis affair come out, we’ll talk about their implications, both on-field and off. As far as the Garza trade goes, at least right now, it appears to have the capacity to shift the AL West race in Texas’ favor, although they still need some offense and we have to see what Oakland might have in store. Over the coming weeks, MLB coverage will again take up these topics as a more complete picture develops.