Ryan Braun’s steroid suspension was overturned on Thursday after arbitrator Shyam Das ruled for the Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger in his appeal on his positive test for performance enhancing drugs. Braun’s sample from October 1, 2011 turned up positive for synthetic testosterone, but because the sample wasn’t delivered to the lab on the same day it was taken, the drug testing process was called into question. Braun called the process “fatally flawed” and was quoted as saying, “I don’t honestly know what happened to it in that 44-hour period.”
According to David Epstein and Joe Lemire’s SI column, sources close to the situation noted that the sample was untarnished when delivered to the lab.
It is not uncommon for doping control officers in a wide array of sports to hold onto a sample — often in a refrigerator — if shipping is not immediately available, and while details of the chain of custody of Braun’s sample were not immediately available, a source with knowledge of the sample said that the seals on the sample were unbroken when it arrived at the lab, and that standard lab tests on the sample showed that it had not degraded. In December, SI.com confirmed that Braun’s sample was found to have an elevated level of testosterone, and that it tested positive for synthetic testosterone.
On his first day of Spring Training, Braun described himself as a victim, saying, “I’m a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed in the way that it was applied to me in the case. As players, we’re held to a standard of 100 percent perfection regarding the program, and everybody else associated with that program should be held to the same standard. We’re a part of a process where you’re 100 percent guilty until proven innocent. It’s the opposite of the American judicial system.”
I’m not sure I’d agree. If anything, the system worked perfectly for him. According to the same SI article I linked above, their sources close to the situation said that his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was higher than any result in the history of baseball’s drug testing program. Rather than go with the tainted supplement defense that never works, he chose to question the chain of custody, which was smart. But even that has its flaws. By questioning what happened to his sample in the time period that it was away from the lab, he’s basically saying that someone tampered with his sample to cause it to test positive. But if the seal wasn’t broken and and lab test showed that the sample wasn’t degraded, isn’t his argument already disproved?
Travis Tygart, the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency which does stringent drug testing for the Olympics was quoted as saying, “Synthetic drugs don’t magically appear in urine because it took 48 hours versus 20 minutes to get to the laboratory.” He also told the USA Today, “It’s a gut kick to clean athletes in baseball for a technicality like this to undermine their rights.”
Baseball writer Jeff Fletcher says it’s not logical to have Braun prove that he didn’t actually take the substance he tested positive for because it’s not a defense that works historically. Yet, his guess is that since Braun passed prior tests, he probably just “accidentally” took a banned substance. Don’t all prior first-time drug offenders pass prior tests? And because baseball’s drug testing program isn’t random during the season, I don’t imagine it’s that hard to pass.
MLB’s policy reads that players will be tested within five days of reporting to Spring Training and one additional unannounced test on a random date. However, in the offseason, testing looks to be more random, which could’ve been when Braun was popped, since the regular season was technically over when he was tested. If any baseball player fails a test in Spring Training when he knows within a five day window when he’ll be tested, he’s an idiot. Drug tests are like IQ tests. Smart players will know generally when a drug is no longer in their system. To fail a scheduled drug test is just foolish. So none of us should be surprised to see that Braun’s test was taken after the regular season ended, when the MLB can test randomly.
Braun doesn’t seem to be interested in proving his innocence. If he was, he’d sue the person who was supposed to deliver the sample to the lab. Or maybe he’d ask the MLB to test him randomly year-round. Or maybe he’d try and figure out how his testosterone-to-epitestosterone could’ve even been as high as five times higher than normal, if those numbers are to be believed. He said on Friday that he would bet his life that the substance he failed for never entered his body. Yet, if his tested sample wasn’t tampered with, whose body did it enter?
Ryan Braun isn’t a victim. He’s smart. Rich. And lucky.