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Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. An Oakland A's fan, Matt has been obsessed with baseball since 1998 and started writing about the sport in 2006.

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Braun’s bare-faced lies

Ryan Braun broke his silence this past week following his 65-game suspension for using a banned substance. His chosen method was unsurprising given the rest of his conduct during the whole process.

Braun didn’t sit himself down in front of a group of journalists under the full glare of TV cameras, forced to answer the difficult questions that many want to put to him.

Instead, he issued a written statement that had the fingerprints of agents and publicists all over it, however hard it tried to give off the air of being ‘from the heart’.

Braun wrote in the statement of being “deeply ashamed” and “beyond embarrassed”, whilst expressing how he “deeply regrets” what has happened.  It’s difficult to read those words without thinking that he actually “regrets” and is “ashamed” and “embarrassed” by the fact that he ran out of excuses and now has to live with the consequences of being exposed as not simply a player who failed a drug test, but as a compulsive liar.

The 2011 National League MVP award winner – a title that will be a millstone around his neck for ever more – claimed that it was a desire to recover from an injury that led to his temporary drug-taking.

“Here is what happened. During the latter part of the 2011 season, I was dealing with a nagging injury and I turned to products for a short period of time that I shouldn’t have used. The products were a cream and a lozenge which I was told could help expedite my rehabilitation”.

From a moral perspective there is a grey area where ‘performance-enhancing’ usage overlaps with genuine medical treatment to get a player out onto the field in the best condition possible.  MLB’s drug-testing programme makes clear what is a banned substance and so there are no excuses here, but most activities (be it weight-lifting, nutritional supplements, LASIK eye surgery etc) are designed to enhance performance in some way so it could be argued that calling someone a “cheat” in these circumstances isn’t quite right. It’s also true that we often have no real idea of how ‘performance-enhancing’ any alleged drug use actually is.

The problem with all this is that taking a banned substance is against the rules and will invariable involve deliberate deception. And from there, all bets are off.

The whole sorry saga around Ryan Braun’s case doesn’t need retelling in great detail, but the short version is as follows:

  • He took a banned substance in 2011 and subsequently failed a drug test
  • He invoked his right to challenge the failed drug test and in defending himself (knowing he was guilty, don’t forget), he allegedly went so far as to try and accuse the tester as being an anti-Semitic, Chicago Cubs fan
  • The efforts of Braun and his legal team – plus presumably some sloppiness of the part of the drug-testing process – successfully got him off the charge
  • Braun staged a press conference at the start of Spring Training in 2012 in which he shamelessly claimed to have been vindicated by the process, took pot shots at the drug-testing process and won the support of his teammates who defended his good character (again, all whilst Braun knew full well he was guilty as sin)
  • Braun once again came up with a cock-and-bull story earlier this year when his name was disclosed as part of the Biogenesis scandal
  • Braun originally refused to answer any questions when interviewed by MLB about the Biogenesis link before finally speaking to MLB and admitting his guilt.

Put it all together and we have no reason to believe that Braun used the banned substance with any sort of good intention, nor should we look at his admission of using them “for a short period of time” and take that at face value either.

This is a textbook case of a rich, successful and gifted athlete, presumably emboldened by the wealth and adulation that his sporting prowess has won him, being so deluded by his ego and arrogance that he can justify to himself taking any action whatsoever (e.g. tarnishing the reputation of an innocent drug tester) not only to break the rules but to cover up his guilt.

We saw the same thing with Melky Cabrera a year ago when he (and associates) created a fake website to try and cover up his positive drug test, and the stories about Alex Rodriguez (trying to buy up evidence etc) keep on coming.

You have to question whether any of these players really care. Cabrera still got himself a two-year, $16m contract over the offseason from the Toronto Blue Jays despite his transgression. Braun will forfeit $3.25m in salary during his suspension but still has $110m coming to him over the next six seasons, whilst A-Rod will retire with several hundred million dollars to cushion himself from his likely exclusion from Cooperstown.

Regardless of the unknown effects of taking these substances (naively perhaps, I suspect in baseball their impact is relatively minimal and don’t themselves turn a good player into a great one) it’s no wonder so many other players are adamant about wanting longer suspensions and more testing. So long as the likes of Braun continue to concoct a web of lies to cover up their tracks, suspicion will weigh on every player.

Sadly the acts of people like Braun ensure that every claim of innocence, however genuine, can justifiably be met with cynicism. Braun will come back and no doubt be forgiven by some, but he cannot undo the wider damage done to the reputation of the sport and his fellow players.

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