Maybe you’re aware; maybe you’re not.
Recently, Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun successfully appealed his positive steroids test. According to the leaked report last year, his testosterone levels were extremely elevated and a later test showed that the testosterone was synthetic. In other words, he was using steroids. Getting caught with steroids in your system is no small thing in baseball. It comes with a 50-game suspension with no pay.
Ryan Braun isn’t just anybody. One of the few Jewish athletes in professional sports, he is known as "the Hebrew Hammer" and last season he won the National League’s MVP award after the 28-year-old outfielder hit .312 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs and led Milwaukee to the NL championship series. He has always been well-liked by the media and fans. But in this day and age, media and fans have little to no sympathy for people caught using performance enhancing drugs.
So, like 12 players before him, Braun appealed the decision. As none of those players had been successful, this seemed like a done deal. Braun was looking at a 50-game suspension and a loss of about $1.87 million of his $6 million salary. But Ryan was able to win the appeal. In front of an arbitrator jointly chosen by Major League Baseball and the Players’ Union, his lawyers argued not that the test was wrong and Braun never took any PEDs, but that the testing system was flawed.
In other words, he may or may not have used steroids but we can’t sure because the test was compromised. What happened was since there was no FedEx office open after 5 on a Friday near the Brewers stadium, the investigator took the urine sample home with him and kept it in a refrigerator over the weekend and sent it out to the testing lab on Monday. Both sides agreed that the sample was sealed in a tamperproof jar and had not been interfered with before arriving at the lab, but Braun’s legal team still contended that this was not proper protocol. It actually is. There are set guidelines for collecting and sending samples and this collector followed them.
So, Braun won based on that argument and then came out with this statement: “I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. 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.”
Now, unless you’ve been hiding out in Cuba with Tupac and Kenneth Lay, you know that steroids in baseball has been one of the most controversial topics over the last ten years. It gives players an unfair advantage over others that do not take performance-enhancing drugs. Many players have been suspended for using steroids including some big names like Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez but no one is bigger than Barry Bonds.
Bonds is Major League Baseball’s all-time homerun leader with 762 of them over the course of his career. And although he has never failed a drug test, Bonds’s name has been linked to steroids for many years. As he tore up the league playing for the San Francisco Giants, he was often hazed and harassed in other ballparks because of this connection. His name has become synonymous with steroids use and ultimately, he was banned from the game as no team would sign him after his last contract expired even though he was coming off of a monster season. When Barry’s name is placed on the Hall of Fame ballots for the first time this year, you can bet that he will not be getting voted in.
Here’s the thing. By the time the 2012 baseball season gets in full swing, the Ryan Braun situation will have already slipped from people’s collective memory. That is, fans may not have forgotten, but it won’t seem so important. Ryan more than likely will slide back into his normal life as a baseball player.
Meanwhile, no one can let go of Barry Bonds' link to PEDs. But there is one major difference between Braun and Bonds. Bonds has never failed a drug test.
While it is unclear why Bonds more than any other player is tied to steroids in people’s collective thought, it should be noted that Bonds is the only Black player that should go to the Hall of Fame that has been linked to the drugs. But again, he has never failed a test.
The question remains: as Ryan Braun tries to restore his image coming off of this failed drug test, will baseball fans and the media fail a test of their own? Will "the Hebrew Hammer" be held to the same standard as brother Barry?
Chris Wilder is a Philadelphia and New York-based journalist who covers sports for the Associated Press and ESPNU.com. He also writes for Black America Web and Common Ground News Service. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Source Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ceewild