Did you hear? Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for PEDs was overturned yesterday.
The three parties involved in the ruling — MLB, the Players Association and an independent third party arbitrator, the previously-unknown-but-now-quite-(in)famous Shyam Das —made baseball history: this is the first time a positive PED test has ever been overturned.
Predictably, Ryan Braun fans and Brewers fans have been ecstatic. The Brewers, who already lost Prince Fielder to free agency, now have the 2011 MVP back for the first 50 games. No more doom and gloom.
But let’s get something clear here: Braun’s test wasn’t overturned because of errors with the test itself (a false positive or otherwise); it was overturned on a technicality.
And that, every baseball fan should have a huge problem with.
Let’s recap, as both Bleacher Report and ESPN have reported: October of 2011, Ryan Braun was found to have a 20:1 testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio. Normal for humans is 1:1. A second urine sample for Braun confirmed that he had exogenous testosterone in his body. Soon after, the MLB suspended Ryan Braun the mandated 50 games.
Ryan Braun and his lawyers appealed, questioning the chain of custody of the sample. They argued that the collector, who was supposed to FedEx the sample to the testing lab in Montreal the day of collecting the sample, shouldn’t have taken the sample home when he/she thought the FedEx office was closed.
As a result, Shyam Das, the third party arbitrator, took Braun’s side on this issue, overturning the MLB suspension.
The MLB, expectedly, was livid — as they should have been. Ryan Braun should still be suspended for 50 games; it’s as simple as that.
Before Brewers/Braun fans get outraged, let me clear up that this isn’t a Ryan Braun issue. I love the guy – he single-handedly won me my fantasy league when he was called up in 2007. He’s a fantastic player and by all reports, a fantastic guy. He doesn’t fit the PED stereotype and I have no reason to suspect he’s ever doped.
But a positive test is a positive test is a positive test. And when you and your lawyers don’t dispute the test and instead dispute the chain of custody, something stinks. Someone’s hiding something and every fan of baseball should be openly questioning what just happened.
Basically, what Braun and his lawyers are suggesting is that somehow, between the time the urine sample was collected and the time the collector FedExed the urine sample off, something happened. They’re suggesting that maybe the collector had a bone to pick with Braun. Maybe the collector put something in the urine. Maybe the collector dropped Braun’s urine by accident and then had to use his/her urine.
Come on. If you’ve ever had a urine test done, you’ve seen the stringent procedures collectors follow at even the most casual of drug test screening locations (samples are sealed immediately with a unique serial number on the bottle and on the paperwork). And even if you haven’t, think about it – there’s such a high probability that the guilty will try to find some way to circumvent the system that there have to be strict procedures.
If Braun’s sample was ever opened, the Montreal testing center would know. If Braun’s test was somehow switched out and a new label attached, the testing center would know. So at what point would the sample have gotten contaminated when the collector took it home?
Obviously, the collector was wrong to assume the FedEx office was closed. But it doesn’t make sense that Braun’s test result was somehow altered by this oversight.
Moreover, remember that MLB is not the one excited about Shyam Das’s overrule. This is not the MLB trying to keep its 2011 MVP in the game to drive profits. They’re clearly upset because this has completely altered the landscape of their drug testing policy.
And that’s the part that every fan should be concerned about. Baseball’s drug testing policy was instated to clean up the game and to move it farther away from the “Steroids Era.” The drug test results have never been successfully challenged — and they still haven’t.
Except now the precedent has been set where players who test positive in the future can question every minute detail of the collection process and chain of custody.
In other words, the entire testing process will now have to be followed exactly in order to accuse a player of PED use. Exactly. Because you can bet that accused players will have the very best lawyers scrutinizing every detail and arguing that if Braun suspension could be overturned on a technicality, then their client’s suspension should be overturned on a technicality.
Shyam Das has set the precedent and he (along with any future arbitrators) will now be forced to follow it.
Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, right? It’s never bad to make absolutely sure that a player is guilty before suspending him.
Except that’s not the issue here. A player could test positive for a whole slew of PEDs, but if it's somehow interferes with when the collector sends the sample out, he could go free. That opens up a whole new slew of abuses and that’s particularly disturbing.
Ultimately, we do have to keep in mind that there’s a lot we don’t know and may never know; Ryan Braun could be guilty, he could be innocent — that’s insignificant.
Instead, what is especially significant is that Braun’s suspension was overturned because of a failure in the chain of custody, not a failure in the testing lab. This precedent is an enormously damaging one to baseball’s attempt to clean up the game and one that makes absolutely no sense given the information we have. This is a big setback to drug testing and we, as baseball fans, deserve more answers.