Ryan Braun was busted for failing major league baseball drug testing. He’s now subject to a 50 game suspension. Some people are calling for his head, and there is even a vocal minority that was his 2011 NL MVP award rescinded and given to Matt Kemp. What do I think about the whole Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) scenario and how it continually rears it’s ugly head in the world of baseball? I wish I didn’t have to address this yet again, but here goes.
On June 19th, 2009, I wrote one of the most difficult pieces of my life that I titled Death of the Hero? In that piece I bemoaned the fact that it appeared that an entire generation of baseball players had been using PED’s. Had sports become so tainted that it was no longer appropriate for a father to tell his child to look up to the great of the game?
Almost exactly two years ago on December 9th, 2009, I wrote an article titled The Hidden Truth. In that piece I talked about baseball’s dirty little secret, that being, how a massive number of big league ballplayers qualified for a Therapeutic Use Exemption that allowed them to take drugs that would normally be ruled illegal (the drugs were/are to treat ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the article goes into the fact that baseball players were/are taking such drugs at a rate that far surpasses those of us in the public sector).
On January 12th, 2010, I broke down the situation with Mark McGwire who finally, after denying it for years, admitted that he used unnatural means to help him on the filed of baseball (for the story give McGwire: The Day After a read).
Finally, about a year ago, I wrote Innocent Until Proven Guilty in response to the calls of so many out there who basically wanted to throw out all ballplayer’s performances for anyone who appeared in the 1990′s and 2000′s. The common thought was that since everyone was cheating all should be punished (I centered this piece on the case of Jeff Bagwell. The Astros’ former All-Star had finished an excellent career having never failing a drug test. However, because people assumed, with no proof mind you, that he had cheated, so some felt that he shouldn’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame). I had hoped that would be the last piece that I would ever have to write on the subject. How naive I was.
I’m not here to write about the guilt or innocence of Ryan Braun as that situation will play itself out over the coming months (Braun has vowed to fight the failed test in court. He also took a subsequent testing immediately after finding out that he failed the first test and passed without an issue). I am here to say a couple of things though.
(1) Why is anyone surprised that athletes do what they can to gain an advantage? Be it stealing signs or using supplements, athletes will always try to gain whatever advantage they can. They always have.
(2) Why is it that only baseball gets a black eye with all of this? As I’ve written and talked about many times over the years, and detailed in Innocent Until Proven Guilty, players constantly cheat in the NFL, i.e. they use PED’s, and no one cares. The prime example is Shawne Merriman who failed a test for steroids in 2006, was suspended for a quarter of the season, and was subsequently elected to the Pro Bowl that year. Think about that for a moment. The NFL had an admitted cheater in their midst and they named him to the all-star game. Do you think baseball is the only professional sport where guys use PED’s? If you do think that, I feel sorry for you.
(3) With so many worse things going on in the world, why do people get so up in arms about this issue? My favorite football example is Michael Vick. He ran an illegal dog fighting ring and murdered dogs. He goes to jail for his crimes, gets out, and no one cares anymore. Isn’t it worse to be the murderer of sentient beings that it is to stick a needle in your ass? What about the wife beaters, the womanizers, the alcoholics and the recreational drugs users in sports, why do they all get a free pass? I know what people will say, ‘but PED’s give you an advantage on the field while that other stuff is off it.’ To a certain extent that group of people is certainly right. At the same time, I don’t see Arnold Schwarsenegger or Lou Ferrigno playing baseball either, do you? There’s more to playing baseball than looking good in a wife beater. No matter how many weights you lift or how many PED’s you jam in your body, you still have to have the innate talent and drive to be a successful baseball player. Just like I wrote many times about Barry Bonds, Ryan Braun is an elite level performer whether or not he ever used a PED.
I know there are baseball players who cheat. At the same time, baseball players have been cheating since the 19th century so I’m always shocked by the people that seem to think all of this started 15 years ago. I’m not condoning it mind you, I deplore cheating, but put yourself in Braun’s shoes for a moment. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that he is innocent and that the test was in error. Even if that is true, and it’s somehow proven to be the case, many people will never trust Braun again, and his legacy will forever be tainted.
The shame of all of this is that, yet again, baseball is being dragged through the mud even though they are the one professional sport with the stones to take a hard look in the mirror (keep plugging your into the sand football fans – no one in that sport cheats). Too bad that willingness to play the game in an open manner leaves it wide open to criticism from every sports fan in the world.
By Ray Flowers