I sometimes have compassion for people who make mistakes and get nailed for them publicly. There’s not a one of us who, if you examine our lives from top to bottom, is above reproach every single day, and as I’ve said often, athletes — who are often held in special contempt by the public as if they’re in some sort of special “worse class” than the rest of us when they’re busted for doing something wrong — are no more than a subset of the population. Give most of us that kind of money, power, and some free time in the off-season, and we might commit a lot of the same sins. Yet when we make mistakes in our own lives, they don’t make headlines. So in that sense, the rest of us always get off easier than athletes.
Performance-enhancing drugs have had an enormous role in baseball the past two decades, though we’ve just now started to bust players in recent years. At first, the common stance was to deny, deny, deny, and accuse your accusers of wrongful defamation through attorneys and the threat of a massive lawsuit. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were the worst offenders in this category. A small minority — Andy Pettitte comes to mind — confessed when busted, apologized, and moved on.
Which brings us to Brewers star Ryan Braun. Braun first was busted near the end of 2011, but denied wrongdoing and got off on a technicality around the collection of his test. It should have never happened, but instead of accepting his lucky fate and moving on, Braun got self-righteous, took shots at the character of the sample collector, and then issued this gem of a statement (as recorded by MLB.com):
“We were able to get through this, because I am innocent and the truth is on our side. We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.”
Braun, of course, was lying through his teeth the entire time. This winter, he was connected to a huge drug scandal in Miami. Again, he lied about his involvement. Finally, Major League Baseball had enough evidence to suspend him this year. I guess Braun saw the walls closing in, because this time, he accepted a suspension that cost him the rest of this season.
Braun “apologized” this week, but I don’t see much evidence that he’s sorry. It was a coward’s apology. He talked of how it was a “distraction” to he and his family, as if the whole situation had been thrust upon him by someone else. While he was willing to parade in front of the media about his false “innocence” last year, he this time refused to face reporters to talk about his suspension.
Braun and a lot of other people should have learned some things from Pettitte years ago. As the saying goes, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. Pettitte did what he needed to do and moved forward, and remains one of the more respected players in baseball. Players rarely turn on players in these instances, but Braun handled this so poorly that some, like the Dodgers Skip Schumaker, ripped him publicly.
So yes, Ryan Braun is certainly not enjoying the piling-on he’s getting this week. It’s been rough. I argue it’s still not enough. Not even close.
Who knows how long Braun’s cheated? We know it at least goes back to 2011, when he won an MVP award. Guess what? Suspension or not, he’s still got that. And even though he’s losing $3.5 million this year, it’s pennies on the dollar: he’s in the midst of a seven-year, $145.5-million deal.
Here’s the thing I want to know: how good is Braun without drugs? The irony would be if Braun had complied some of his previous super seasons without the aid of PEDs. We’ll never know, though: his drug use and the lying about it have so cast a shadow over his career, he doesn’t deserve any benefit of the doubt.
Deep in your heart, you have to have a bit of compassion for someone who had a temporary lapse in judgment like Pettitte, one of baseball’s really good guys, did. Maybe some will have that for Braun, but I won’t be one of them. As long as that MVP trophy is still on his mantel and he’s cashing million-dollar paychecks each month, justice still hasn’t been done.