The media have suggested that Ryan Braun is the most brazen and evil villain since Hannibal Lecter and Freddy Krueger.
How about a little perspective on the issue? Braun is yet another in a lengthening list of baseball players who used performance enhancing drugs and got caught.
He was no more idolized than Rogers Clemens or Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire before they became persons of interest in the steroid mess. Consequently, his fall from grace was no more shocking.
Nor is Braun the first person who lied publicly about his nefarious activities.
He was the first active player to get away with it after being flagged (at least for a while), when his legal representatives used a technicality to get him off the hook during an earlier arbitration hearing.
Let’s not even call it a technicality. Major League Baseball and the players union agreed on procedures for handling urine specimens. In this case, the precise steps in the process were not followed, so Braun beat the rap. It happens all the time in real courts involving more weighty offenses.
But Braun did do the crime, and now he has to do the time, a 65-game suspension that includes a $3 million loss of salary. Some people don’t think that’s enough. Their attitude seems to be based on Braun shouting his innocence from the rooftops incessantly.
He stood in front of microphones insisting he did nothing wrong before his initial hearing before an arbitrator, then again when he was “exonerated” without a judgment having been made on the merits of the case, and yet again when he was accused of obtaining banned substances from the shady Florida lab, Biogenesis.
Lies, lies and more lies. Public lies. But honestly, what did you think he would do? What did almost all of his predecessors do when they were accused of bulking up with steroids? At least Braun didn’t pretend he no longer spoke English, like Sosa, during his appearance before Congress. He didn’t tell a congressional committee, “I don’t want to talk about the past,” like McGwire.
I’m not supporting Braun in any way. He’s guilty of using PEDs; he cheated; he attempted to gain an unfair advantage over his peers, and what he did was against federal law, not just MLB rules.
But even a guy who gets 20 years for armed robbery is considered to have paid his debt to society once he completes his sentence. Yet when sports heroes cross the line, we tend to write them off forever.
Too many of us live our lives through these athletes. Their awards are our awards, their championships are our championships. So when these folks turn out to be less than iconic, we turn on them because we put all of our faith in them.
Guess what? That’s on us, not them. Granted, Braun, Clemens, Sosa and Bonds know they are (were) viewed as special people by the fans, which is part of the problem, one of the reasons they developed an attitude of entitlement. But they are keenly aware of being all too human, which many of us can’t seem to fathom until something brings them down.
I don’t know if 65 games is the appropriate punishment for Braun, though it smacks of being reasonable. I do know that voiding the rest of his $133 million contract is wrong. Once he has served his suspension, he should be free to pursue his career.
But there are a couple of clauses in the standard player contract by which a team might argue that Braun’s (A-Rod, are you listening?) contract might be voided.
Paragraph 7 (b)(1) permits contract termination if a player “fails, refuses or neglects to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship or keep himself in first-class physical condition or to obey the club’s training rules.”
In addition, Paragraph 7(b)(3) reads that if a player “fails, refuses or neglects to render his services hereunder or in any manner materially breaches his contract.”
Case closed. Give those Brewers a $133 million jackpot. Except it hasn’t worked that way. Teams that have argued for a player’s contract to be voided under these clauses have failed. Rightfully so.
Imagine all the clubs that would try to squirm out of bad contracts by claiming a player’s deal should be nullified because he was convicted of a DUI, failing to pay child support or even littering.
There has to be equal responsibility on both sides. If a club gives a 10-year, $150 million contract to 31-year-old and the player has become a shell of his former self when he’s 36, who should bear the burden?
The New York Yankees probably are hoping that MLB will free them from paying the $100-plus million remaining on Alex Rodriguez’s contract by giving him a lifetime suspension for his connection to Biogenesis.
We in the media tend to view players alleged to have secured PEDs from Biogenesis director Tony Bosch as subject to a 50-game suspension for a first offense, 100-game ban for a second offense and lifetime expulsion for a third offense. But those penalties were negotiated by MLB and the players union for failed drug tests.
Players alleged to have broken the rules in the Biogenesis situation are not being targeted because they flunked a urinalysis. If they are found culpable by MLB, it will be the result of testimony (probably by Bosch), documents bearing their names in connection with Biogenesis or other data.
Punishment in this kind of a case falls into a gray area. MLB probably can make it up as it goes along, as happened with Braun. Does that make A-Rod more vulnerable to an extreme penalty? Nobody knows. But I know a lot of you are hoping that it does.
My advice to you: Put your faith in comic book heroes; they never refuse to give you an autograph, they never fail a drug test, and they never strike out with the bases loaded in the seventh game of the World Series.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.