You have opinions.
As a human being with conscious thought you have formed opinions on countless things throughout your existence.
From what you prefer for breakfast in the morning to which route you like to take to the gym from your home. From how you take your coffee to which side of the bed you like to sleep on. From what you thought of the waiter who served you to what you thought of the movie you just saw.
How you perceive the world around you is largely influenced by your personal experiences. Nobody is exactly the same as anybody else and this is reflected in the varied and unique outlooks on, and takeaways from, different things.
I point this out to underline one simple truth in the Ryan Braun situation, which is:
You’ve already formed your opinion about whether you think Ryan Braun had a substance in his system which is listed on Major League Baseball’s “Banned Substance List” and resulted in elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.
What’s more, there is little I or anybody else can do to change that opinion at this point.
But I realize that, of course, and that’s not what this piece is about. If you want to read articles and posts from people on both sides of the issue, you can find them pretty easily. If you want to read about the sample collector’s reputation of integrity, or FedEx locations’ hours of operation (Miller Park’s zip code is 53214, for what it’s worth), or how a supposed recreation of circumstances could lead to a duplication of results, or the take of an expert it’s all out there for you.
This piece is about helping you better understand the situation which was presented to you on Thursday and Friday of last week. As a reminder, Thursday afternoon was when we learned that independent arbitrator Shyam Das voted to uphold Ryan Braun’s appeal, and Friday afternoon was when the baseball world heard from Ryan Braun himself.
Everybody that listened to the press conference on Friday heard Ryan Braun admonish the testing process as it was applied to him in this instance. We all heard about the 44-hour window in which the chain of custody was supposedly broken. We heard what some consider to be reasonable doubt about the integrity of the urine sample which was collected on October 1, 2011 but not sent into WADA until the afternoon of Monday, October 3, 2011.
We heard these things and chances are that if they affected your opinion at all, it was only to strengthen your previous position. It may have brought some doubters back to the middle a bit, but regardless, plenty of doubters viewed Braun’s words only as empty rhetoric, carefully crafted and expertly delivered.
While we may never know exactly what was argued by Braun’s defense team in the appeal hearing, everybody has chosen to focus on the 44-hour window brought up more than once by Braun. People claim it was a technicality and cite it as more reason that Braun did something that he couldn’t argue his way out of.
But what of that defense tactic?
For the sake of argument, let’s believe that Braun is innocent of knowingly putting any substance into his system. Let’s believe that Braun figured out that an MLB approved supplement was improperly created and an illegal substance was accidentally mixed in and Braun took it. Let’s say that he could have proved that beyond doubt or question.
MLB would have suspended him for 50 games because an athlete is strictly liable for a positive test of any substance prohibited under the CBA, whether or not the substance actually enhanced performance or is even capable of enhancing performance.
So is arguing a case that is sure to result in a loss and resultant suspension smart?
I ask this because what Braun’s legal team did was what any smart legal team would do. They argued the easiest (or by some accounts only) path to exoneration in this appeal proceeding.
Here’s an example from cinema that illustrates my point…
The movie “Liar, Liar” stars Jim Carrey as a hot shot attorney who, to make a long and funny story short, is given a divorce case to try in an attempt to get a judge to rule against a seemingly air-tight case where proof of adultery and a prenuptial agreement were stacked against a cheating soon-to-be ex-wife.
Carrey’s character concocted an elaborate lie about how the woman was driven into her infidelity due to a lack of passion and attention in her marriage. It sounded good to the client in theory, but the law is the law and that case would’ve fallen on the court’s rightfully unsympathetic ears.
Instead, when the twist of the move came and Carrey’s lawyer was made incapable of lying, he instead was forced to be truthful and ended up winning the case on a what he even called a “technicality” at the time. He realized that his client was only 17 when she got married and signed the prenuptial agreement. The contract was therefore null and void because she couldn’t enter into any legally-binding contract as a minor.
The case was won because the truth was argued, not some cockamamie story that wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Any smart attorney would’ve argued the same in that case because it’s how that case could be won, just like any smart attorney would’ve argued any angle that got Braun out of the 50-game suspension, regardless of any other part of the circumstances whether they be known or unknown, because that’s how the appeal could be won.
Ryan Braun left things unsaid on Friday. He said that he couldn’t get into all the details and he didn’t. We have no way of knowing what those details are. We have no way of knowing what was the argument (or arguments) that Das deemed of enough import to vote on the side of the player for the first time in the numerous grievance arbitration cases he has heard as a part of the three-person panel.
But to assume underlying guilt of the man in question simply because his legal team knew which argument they had to make to have even a chance at a favorable outcome?
Like I said, you’ve got your opinion and I’m not trying to sway that opinion either way. But if your consciously-formed opinion about this experience is predicated simply on the fact that Braun’s legal team wanted to actually win the appeal…well, perhaps you can afford yourself a bit more time to think on it.
My perception of this situation is that Braun’s lawyer is as smart as he was advertised to be. They found a point to argue which actually had merit in the chance to exonerate Braun from his suspension. They went with it and won the day, so to speak. Thoughts on how the testosterone level spiked could have spiked because of improper storage or even what is meant by “detecting synthetic testosterone” in the first place are good to read and be educated about, but whether any of that information had anything to do with winning the appeal is not known at this time.
We only have the 44-hour window and the shadows of doubt about what it could have meant to the integrity of the sample which was used in the testing procedure to consider. If that’s all there truly was, and it was enough for Das, then it must be enough for baseball.
Therefore, unless (until?) something new comes to light regarding that successful appeal of a 50-game suspension, these will be my final long-form thoughts on the topic.