MLB: Guilty until proven innocent?

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By Sam Hyman

A middle school education in this country will teach you that this country’s legal system is designed to presume innocence before proving guilt. Aspirations of an ideal societal standard of behavior may have led to the inception of such a concept, but any sort of reciprocity has been non-existent.

In recent years, it has become more abundantly clear than ever that we, as a society, show no hesitation in branding a person as guilty.

Perhaps more than in any other form, this tendency to assume guilt is often realized with steroid accusations in sports.

While such a predisposition is likely based on a broader societal trend, this more specific case is surely due in large part to the countless number of cases in which smoke has indeed led to fire. From the obvious cases like Bill Romanowski, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds, to the more surprising examples like Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and Lance Armstrong, fans have been brainwashed to believe that all athletes cheat.

Just because the presumption of guilt has been proven valid does not mean that it is right.  Being that there presently exist no prominent cases of an accused athlete being vindicated, there is no reason to believe that any athlete could possibly be victimized.  There is a good chance that that may soon change.

On Nov. 22, it was announced that Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun had been named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. The immediate reactions were all positive.  As a hard-working, good-looking, All-American young player who said and did all the right things and played in the Midwest, Braun was the picture perfect MVP.

On Dec. 10, it was reported that Ryan Braun had tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone. Although he vehemently denied the reports, the initial speculations all claimed that Braun was a fraud and that, along with serving a mandatory 50-game suspension to start next season, he should be immediately stripped of his newly yet-to-be-officially-awarded MVP award. The facts of the situation did not matter; Braun tested positive and deserved to be vilified.

The simplest fact is that Braun’s alleged failed test occurred during the postseason in mid-October while the MVP is strictly a regular season award.  No matter the circumstances surrounding the test, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) would have no basis for revoking the award.

The other facts of the situation are what make Braun a victim.  First and foremost, the results of Braun’s test were prematurely leaked. Via the collectively bargained agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Player’s Association, every player that tests positive for an illegal substance has the right to an appeal and is guaranteed that the results of their test will not be publicly disclosed until the appeals process is completed. Even now, Braun’s appeal is still under review and yet reports of his failure were leaked almost two months ago.

Had the leak never occurred, and the appeal went in his favor, no one ever would have known that Ryan Braun even took a random drug test in October 2011.  Instead, no matter the outcome, Braun will always carry the stigma of a (suspected) steroid user.

Secondly, and most importantly, it is becoming increasingly clear that Braun likely did not take steroids at all. In his limited public statements on the matter, Braun has intimated that the positive test had nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs, but rather that it was due to a personal medical issue. This explanation, if true, does not clear Braun from ingesting a banned substance but it does increase the consequences of the leaked result’s implications on public sentiment.

In support of Braun’s claims that he did not take steroids, recent reports have stated that only one out of two tests of his October urine sample came back positive.  Additionally, the reported testosterone level was the highest level ever recorded and was so high that it has put serious doubt in the minds of medical professionals.

Whether the results of the appeal show that Braun’s positive test was due to a performance-enhancing substance or not, his season, and likely his entire career, will be remembered by many with an asterisk. The shame is that the appeal matters to relatively few people besides Braun himself.  Even if the appeal exonerates him from competitive wrongdoing, the effects of 30 years of public brainwashing will forever lock Braun in baseball purgatory.

There may soon be an exception to the rule or there may not be, but whatever the outcome is, the instantaneous and unsubstantiated denigration of a top-notch player (according to the facts) and person (according to reports) represents a true shortcoming of our society.

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