I sat on a folding chair on the field in Maryvale, Ariz., back in February of 2012, after Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension was overturned by MLB arbitrator Shyam Das, and Braun held a press conference to thunder forth his innocence.
In light of the events of yesterday, in which Braun meekly submitted to a 65-game suspension, all of his sanctimonious pronouncements that day are rendered retroactively laughable. I distinctively remember thinking when Braun had finished talking that either he is the most brazen liar I have ever witnessed in person, or he has been the victim of one of the most unjust smear job in sports.
I think we know the answer now. Obviously, Braun is not the first athlete accused of PED violations to aggressively declare his innocence up to the very moment that the weight of evidence is so strong that he has to cave. I think of Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones, of Rafael Palmeiro pounding his fist in the Congressional hearing on steroids and saying, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.”
That was five months before Palmeiro tested positive. But Armstrong, Jones and Palmeiro I witnessed from afar. With Braun, I was a mere five feet away, listening to his voice quiver, watching the emotion overcome him, as he uttered statements like this:
“I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life, that this substance never entered my body at any point.”
“Today is about everybody who’s ever been wrongly accused, and everybody who’s ever had to stand up for what was actually right.”
“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.”
“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.”
The unfortunate byproduct of Braun’s exposure as a fraud is that it merely turns up the public skepticism another notch. It makes it that much harder for the truly innocent players to get anyone to believe them when they swear they’re doing it clean. Which is why so many ballplayers, the vast majority of whom really are doing it the right way, are so upset right now at Braun, and so dismayed by the Biogenesis case that is making them all suspects in the public eye once again.
There is no question that there has been a sea change in the view of MLB players, whose union once vigorously fought drug testing but whose constituency now favors ever-tougher testing and vigorous penalties to weed out the cheaters. They don’t want to be coerced into cheating because it’s the only way to keep up, as happened in the so-called steroids era. And they don’t want to be assumed guilty until proven innocent — a proof that really is impossible — for every career spike or run at a record.
For that, Ryan Braun did every player a disservice. And the fact that he stood on that field and wantonly deceived everyone makes it even more galling.