Ryan Braun couldn’t have out swinging any harder than he did during his 25-minute press conference earlier today at the Brewers facility in Phoenix.
Standing at a podium set up near home plate, his voice heaving with emotion at times, a dozen teammates watching intently from the bleachers, Braun professed his complete and total innocence in the strongest terms possible. He criticized the way his sample was handled, and insinuated that it could have been tampered with while it sat for 44 hours with the person who collected it. He shot down a persistent rumor that his positive test was caused by medicine he was taking for an STD. He also blasted the media for inaccurate reports and alluded to possibile legal action down the road.
It was a forceful, compelling performance. But was it effective in cleansing Braun’s reputation, a day after arbitrator Shyam Das cleared the 2011 National League MVP to play by overturning his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test?
My hunch is that he didn’t change many minds, either way. If you were predisposed to believe in Braun’s innocence, then he certainly gave you reason to think he had been wronged by the entire system. His righteous indignition was in line with an innocent person who was grappling to correct a grave injustice.
Statements like these made for riveting theater, and made you think hard:
“If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say, I did it. By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life, I’ve taken responsibility for my actions.
“I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life, that this substance never entered my body at any point.”
“I’ve always stood up for what is right. Today is about everybody who’s ever been wrongly accused, and everybody who’s ever had to stand up for what was actually right. Today is not just about me, not just about one player. It’s about all players, all future players, everybody who plays the game of baseball.
“I will continue to take the high road because that’s who I am, and that’s how I live my life. We won because the truth is on my side. The truth is always relevant, and at the end of the day, the truth prevailed. ”
“I’m a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed in the way it was applied to me in this case….The system and the way it was applied to me in this case was fatally flawed.”
“I have always taken tremendous pride in my image and my repututation in being a role model and handling myself the right way and doing things the right way. And all of that has been called into question by this situation. When you know that you’re innocent of something, it’s extremely difficult to have to prove that when you’re in a process where you’re 100 percent guilty until proven innocent.”
“I told (the Players Association), I promise you on everything that’s ever meant anything to me in my life, my morals, the values, the virtues by which I’ve lived in my 28 years on this planet, I did not do this.”
But by now we’ve heard too many athletes proclaim their innocence when accused of, or even testing positive for, performance enhancing drugs. Everyone has an explanation, from Rafael Palmeiro to Roger Clemens to Floyd Landis to Marion Jones. We’ve become numb to the denials. So, I’m sure there are many people (I’ve already heard from a few) who believe that Braun escaped on a technicality, and that his denials don’t mean anything.
We end up where we always do in these cases — not sure what to believe. All we know for certain is that MLB’s protocol in this case was not followed, according to the arbitrator. Did that leave Braun’s sample susceptible to tampering? He certainly made a strong case for it as he went painstakingly through the time line from sample collection on Saturday, Oct. 1 (after the first game of the National League Division Series) until the sample was finally dropped off at FedEx on Monday afternoon.
“There are a lot of things we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have happened,” Braun said.
The process was indeed fouled up, by all indications. Few would dispute that. But it’s still a leap to believe that a collector messed with Braun’s sample. If you have become cynical about performance enhancing drugs and the parade of athletes proclaiming their innocence, you probably won’t think it happened that way. Especially when you read from ESPN sources how the FedEx package when it arrived in the Montreal laboratory “was sealed three times with tamper-proof seals: one on the box, one on a plastic bag inside the box and again on the vial that contained the urine.”
But others will want to believe in Braun, believe his protestations of innocence, believe that no one could lie that convincingly, and believe that a terrible mistake happened.
All we really know for certain is that Ryan Braun is now clear to play baseball. How his reputation will be viewed, moving forward, is in the heart and mind of the beholder.