By now you’ve heard the news… Ryan Braun becomes the first player to successfully challenge a positive drug test. And not because he was proven innocent by a false positive or because the “insane” levels of testosterone were from an unknown substance. Braun won the appeal because MLB failed to follow the necessary protocol.
According to reports, the individual that collected Braun’s sample did not take it immediately to a FedEx shipping store, as demanded under MLB’s protocol. Instead, the individual, thinking the FedEx store would be closed at the hour he picked the sample up (because it must have been too inconvenient to at least make the effort to go to a FedEx store to see if it actually was closed), took it home and kept it in his basement – a cool place. What matters is that the MLB’s policy required the sample get to a FedEx as soon as possible. Based on the sparse details available, this was not done.
The outcry from this result has been swift. And, disturbingly, the outcry seems directed primarily at Braun. For instance, this from ESPN: “Braun’s lawyers apparently found a flaw, a mistake[,] or a loophole in the drug-testing system. And that’s the problem.” No, ESPN, that is not the problem. The problem is MLB blew it.
Protocols are put in place for a reason and need to be followed, especially when a man’s livelihood, reputation, and place in history are at stake. This may come as news to some – pay attention ESPN – but this thing called Lady Justice dictates that we are all innocent until proven guilty. And to prove guilt, the prosecuting authority (in this case, MLB) needs to do it with evidence that is reliable and trustworthy. Reliability and trustworthiness can only be ensured when protocols are established and followed. As soon as those protocols are not followed, reliability and trustworthiness goes out the door, and there are questions about the veracity of the evidence. That’s what happened here. It’s not a “flaw, mistake, or a loophole;” it’s a fuck up by MLB in implementing the proper procedures to ensure all protocol is understood and followed.
Refusing to acknowledge this, MLB issued the following statement: “As a part of our drug testing program, the commissioner’s office and the players’ association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today ….” Let me get this straight: (1) MLB finally gets off its lazy ass and starts testing for performance enhancing drugs two decades too late; (2) MLB implements a drug-testing program with rather little feedback from the players during the last CBA negotiation; (3) the MLB drug-testing program’s success hinges on having reliable and trustworthy urine samples; (4) the drug-testing program allows players to challenge a positive test result by submitting to a neutral arbitration process; and (5) and now MLB vehemently disagrees with the decision because the arbitrator found that the testing protocol was not followed correctly, resulting in a patently unreliable and untrustworthy sample. As Seth and Amy would say… REALLY?!?!
But let’s take this a little further. The urine sample is the only piece of evidence to prove guilt (think about it – testimony, mistake, and a second sample provided by a player to an independent lab have never successfully defeated a positive test in MLB). Considering this, MLB has to know the importance in implementing a fool-proof protocol. The drug-testing program should have accounted for what the collector needs to do in this situation. For instance, (1) Samples must be placed in an envelope, box, or some container that is sealed tight (assuming this won’t affect with the science of the testing), sealed in front of the player, and signed by both the player and collector; (2) Samples can only be collected during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and must be directly taken to a FedEx shipping store and personally handed to an attendant to be shipped overnight; and (3) in the event a FedEx shipping store is closed after the sample is collected, the collector must store the container in a refrigerator or other place that will keep it cool (not the fricking basement!) and the collector must contact the commissioner’s office or the czar of drug-testing (whoever the hell that is), the general manager of the players team, and the player himself to alert each interested party so that the GM and/or player may see the container that night and/or the following morning before it is shipped to ensure the seal is still tight, the signatures are still accurate, and otherwise affirm the sample provided is untainted and reliable. Frankly, the fact the protocol only called for the sample being delivered to FedEx as soon as possible is embarrassingly amateur on MLB’s part. [Editor’s Note: after this matter has become more thoroughly dissected in the national media, it is learned that the first two points above were accounted for in some respect in the drug-testing protocol. Nonetheless, the point remains the drug-testing protocol had certain ambiguities, and “what-if” scenarios that should have been anticipated, but were not – like the third point above. The fact still remains that MLB had a protocol in place that created a situation that permitted a sample to become unreliable and untrustworthy; and for that, MLB is at fault.]
The bottom line is MLB absolutely screwed the pooch on this. And it’s pathetic MLB is now trying to cover its ass by releasing reports now, after the fact, that the samples were still reliable and the arbitrator got it wrong. No, MLB, you got it wrong. Stop blaming Braun and his attorneys for demonstrating its ineptness. This is on you, MLB.
The sad part in all of this is that Braun, at least in the general public’s eyes, is guilty. Despite MLB’s inability to prove his guilt, Braun will forever have the cloud of suspicion over him because there is no answer. All we know is that Braun had an “insane” level of testosterone in his system. We will never know whether Braun was using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. What we do know is that MLB deserves the blame and is shamefully shifting it elsewhere.