After Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for a positive drug test was overturned on appeal in a monumental decision Thursday afternoon, only one thing is certain: Braun will prepare to play a normal, full season when he reports to spring training in Maryvale, Ariz., today.
But it’s going to be a long while until things in baseball are normal again.
This case had enormous implications from the outset. As The Post’s Dave Sheinin wrote in December, it concerned an active player — the reigning National League MVP — and was a reminder of the role that performance-enhancing drugs continues to play in the game. Most importantly, it was a critical test of baseball’s drug policy.
“To the best of anyone’s knowledge,” Sheinin wrote, “out of a reported 13 tries, no player has ever won an appeal following a positive drug test. MLB could have dropped the Braun case if the league felt there were extenuating circumstances that exonerated him – and if ever there was a player to whom you might give the benefit of the doubt, it was Braun. But the league didn’t drop the case. Perhaps it is trying to make an example of Braun. Whatever the case may be, there is a lot riding on the process.”
Now, baseball is left with a test that was thrown out on appeal because of a violation of protocol, what some call a legal loophole in the process, not because of allegations that Milwaukee Brewers star’s sample had been tampered with. Is it one that will be quickly closed or does it strike at a bigger legal issue of presumed innocence and fairness? “Chain of custody a technicality?” Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane sports law program, tweeted. “It’s critical to fair drug policy, and is mentioned 33 times in the MLB drug policy.”
Parties on both sides reacted with emotion Thursday night. Baseball officials were angry that, on appeal, arbiter Shyam Das sided with Michael Weiner and the players’ union rather than baseball. Rob Manfred, the MLB executive who has presided over the drug-testing program, “vehemently” disagreed with the decision.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a close friend, had defended Braun since news of the test result was leaked to ESPN in December and was particularly critical of the sports network on Twitter:
“MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man. Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free #exonerated ... When its guilty until proven innocent, all u need are the facts. #howsthecrowmlb #exonerated ... ‘I'll let my buddy take it from here. All u idiots talking about technicality open up for some crow too. See if Espn gets pressured not to ..let the people hear the truth. Should get interesting. #exonerated #shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”
Back in December, Rodgers said in an ESPN Radio interview that he was “100 percent supporting him.”
“I was very surprised the news came out the way it did. You would think that there would be some sort of confidentiality surrounding the situation because he is appealing it,” Rodgers said (via Sports Radio Interviews). “... I’ve known Ryan for a while now and we’ve spent a lot of time hanging out. I’ve been in the locker room and I’ve seen him working out and stuff. It’s just ridiculous the allegations. I think as much as he probably can’t say a whole lot right now, just the fact that he was willing to take a test right after that and I don’t know exactly what all is out there but I just am trusting that my good friend has not been using anything illegal and I’m very confident that’s the case because I know how much he cares about the integrity of the game and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”
Whether you think Braun was the lucky recipient of a “get of jail free” card or an unfairly accused man or the client of very effective lawyers, he now gets to try to make a fresh start, one in which the Milwaukee Journal’s Michael Hunt urges him to keep swinging away. “It is,” Braun said in a statement, “the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”
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