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PEDs and Integrity

I will only reference the above video of Ryan Braun's press conference yesterday. Other people feature more from anonymous sources, but a) I don't have any sources of my own, and b) I want to do my part to respect the confidentiality supposedly engrained in the drug testing process. Ryan Braun's press conference is clearly public, so I take it as fair game.

Braun, until yesterday, faced a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy. He tested positive for a banned substance, more specifically a performance-enhancing substance. Braun challenged the test result, and won his case in arbitration. The person who took Braun's urine sample did not FedEx the sample immediately, and that appeared to be at the heart of Braun's successful defense.

I do not know if Ryan Braun did or did not take performance enhancing drugs. On one hand, it seems like he did not. He passed years of tests before the fateful one on October 1. Moreover, his positive test was an absurdly positive one, apparently three times higher than the next highest recorded in the drug testing program's history.* Major League Baseball has conducted thousands of these tests at this point, so such an extreme outlier, particularly from someone whom passed several previous tests, seems fishy.

*I find it ironic that Braun (rightfully) blasted his test's confidentiality, yet apparently knows something about other test results.

On the other hand, Braun never explained what caused the positive test result. He highlighted a person who essentially let a sample hang around home instead of a shipping facility. Braun even commented that he did not know why the handler chose to bring the sample home, implying that Braun does not know if his sample was tampered with. Braun clearly identified an opportunity for corruption, but provided no evidence that the sampler seized the opportunity.

Did the sampler tamper with Braun's sample? Could any sample be manipulated to create the test results that the lab found? These are important questions that still hang in the air, begging for answers. Ryan Braun stated that the truth was on his side, so it seems fishy to me that he never explained the truth behind his positive test result.

In the end, even after the ruling in Braun's case, questions remain. Arguably, there are more questions now than before Braun won his appeal. None of us should be surprised though, because this is all that ever happens when steroids and baseball mix. The answers never satisfy.

Major League Baseball needs to change its testing program. The purpose of steroid testing is to defend the integrity of the game. Where is the integrity in Ryan Braun's case? Confidential information got leaked. A sample taker did not follow protocol. Braun never showed (or at least wan't allowed to show publicly) how his urine sample became tainted. We can guess on whether or not Braun was clean at the time of the test, but we will never know.

Ryan Braun hit the nail on the head in his speech when he said the truth is always relevant. The truth is that confidentiality protects safety, but puts integrity in peril. The truth is that Ryan Braun's appeal proved the drug testing policy can police itself for its own integrity issues, yet it harmed the game's integrity even more in the process.

Did Ryan Braun just show the way for juicers to wriggle off the hook? Was Braun on steroids? The uncertainties are the problem. The appeal system "worked," but not really. Now we know that the drug-testing system will catch its own errors, but in the end that doesn't really matter. The system lost sight of its ultimate purpose, defending the integrity of the game.

Ryan Braun, or any player for that matter, should never be able to win an appeal without presenting a probable cause for his positive test. Letting a player go with anything less, even when it makes legal/logical sense, harms the integrity of the game. Hopefully, Major League Baseball learns from this case, and improves the system to better ensure the game's integrity.

Who knew a FedEx shipment could be so important?