Ryan Braun, Steroids and Fairness

If Ryan Braun is innocent, this man, who never met him. tried to ruin his career. It can happen…you know, like Mark Furman tried to frame O.J.

The strange case of Ryan Braun, the 2011  National League Most Valuable Player who tested positive for steroids during the post-season play-offs, once again raises the perplexing ethical issue of fairness when formal procedures concerning alleged wrongdoing are involved.

Braun’s positive test sent a shudder throughout baseball. He was supposed to  be one of the game’s rising young “post-steroid era” stars. For Braun to be caught cheating was a discouraging reminder that the game had not left its disastrous days of pumped-up stars and dubious records behind: now the legitimacy of an MVP season was being called into question. Braun vehemently denied the charges (as every positive-testing player has) and appealed them, a move that had been futile in every previous case. To literally everyone’s surprise, however, the three member arbitration panel ruled 2-1 in Braun’s favor. Although the report of the independent arbitrator who cast the deciding vote has yet to be released, the reason Braun prevailed appears to be that the Major League Baseball contractor who had  responsibility for sending Braun’s urine samples to the testing facilities had to store them at his house for the weekend because FedEx had closed before he could mail them to the lab. This created a sufficient break in the chain of custody, it seems, to make the results invalid.

Braun immediately gave a public statement in which he claimed to be exonerated, and, rather unwisely, impugned the integrity of the man who collected the sample. That man, Dino Laurenzi, gave a statement to the press which said in part:

“On February 24th, Ryan Braun stated during his press conference that “there were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened”…I am issuing this statement to set the record straight.

“My full-time job is the director of rehabilitation services at a health care facility. In the past, I have worked as a teacher and an athletic trainer, including performing volunteer work with Olympic athletes. I am a member of both the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the Wisconsin Athletic Trainers’ Association. I have been a drug collector for Comprehensive Drug Testing since 2005 and have been performing collections for Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program since that time. I have performed over 600 collections for MLB and also have performed collections for other professional sports leagues. I have performed post-season collections for MLB in four separate seasons involving five different clubs.

“On October 1, 2011, I collected samples from Mr. Braun and two other players….I followed the same procedure in collecting Mr. Braun’s sample as I did in the hundreds of other samples I collected under the Program. I sealed the bottles containing Mr. Braun’s A and B samples with specially-numbered, tamper-resistant seals, and Mr. Braun signed a form certifying, among other things, that the specimens were capped and sealed in his presence and that the specimen identification numbers on the top of the form matched those on the seals.

“I placed the two bottles containing Mr. Braun’s samples in a plastic bag and sealed the bag. I then placed the sealed bag in a standard cardboard Specimen Box which I also sealed with a tamper-resistant, correspondingly-numbered seal placed over the box opening. I then placed Mr. Braun’s Specimen Box, and the Specimen Boxes containing the samples of the two other players, in a Federal Express Clinic Pack. None of the sealed Specimen Boxes identified the players. I completed my collections at Miller Park at approximately 5:00 p.m. Given the lateness of the hour that I completed my collections, there was no FedEx office located within 50 miles of Miller Park that would ship packages that day or Sunday.

“Therefore, the earliest that the specimens could be shipped was Monday, October 3. In that circumstance, CDT has instructed collectors since I began in 2005 that they should safeguard the samples in their homes until FedEx is able to immediately ship the sample to the laboratory, rather than having the samples sit for one day or more at a local FedEx office…The FedEx Clinic Pack containing Mr. Braun’s samples never left my custody. Consistent with CDT’s instructions, I brought the FedEx Clinic Pack containing the samples to my home. Immediately upon arriving home, I placed the FedEx Clinic Pack in a Rubbermaid container in my office which is located in my basement. My basement office is sufficiently cool to store urine samples. No one other than my wife was in my home during the period in which the samples were stored. The sealed Specimen Boxes were not removed from the FedEx Clinic Pack during the entire period in which they were in my home. On Monday, October 3, I delivered the FedEx Clinic Pack containing Mr. Braun’s Specimen Box to a FedEx office for delivery to the laboratory on Tuesday, October 4. At no point did I tamper in any way with the samples. It is my understanding that the samples were received at the laboratory with all tamper-resistant seals intact….”

Now, nobody has to allege or believe that Laurenzi actually tampered with the specimens. It would be, and apparently was, enough for the arbitration panel to believe that for the specimens to be in the possession of non-laboratory personnel for more than 24 hours undermined the integrity of the testing procedure, invalidating Braun’s results. With something as career-staining as a positive drug test, and with the punishment so severe (Braun would have been suspended for 50 games to begin the 2012 season, costing him millions and seriously handicapping his team, the Milwaukee Brewers), it is right and just that testing procedures be unimpeachable. Nevertheless, the result leaves us with an ethical dilemma: What is fair to Ryan Braun?

Whatever Ryan Braun did, he did in spite of that surprising arbitrator’s vote. If he was guilty of cheating, the vote didn’t make him innocent, and if he was innocent, he wouldn’t have become guilty if the arbitrator had voted the other way. Thus Braun’s successful appeal alters forever the consequences Braun will suffer, but it doesn’t dictate how reasonable fans should feel about him. In 2012, there are great baseball players who have been excluded from baseball’s Hall of Fame, or will be, because baseball writers suspect them of being steroid users, even though they never tested positive in any test, tainted or otherwise. Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens head the list. If Ryan Braun goes on to  be one of baseball’s all-time greats, will he join the suspected and snubbed, barring a complete turnaround in the sport’s attitude toward performance-enhancing drugs?

I think he will. And in his case (unlike that of Bagwell), I don’t think it will be unfair. Though Braun’s tests were correctly thrown out, it seems far less likely to me that Laurenzi inexplicably decided to frame Ryan Braun than it does that Braun was the undeserving beneficiary of moral luck. But if we have to choose between competing unfairness, isn’t it better to risk allowing a cheater to have an undeserved second chance at a clean reputation, than to take the alternative risk, less probable but more unjust, of forcing an innocent athlete to have his career and reputation forever blighted by something he didn’t do?

I’m not sure, and the added problem is this: even if I agree with that last sentence, I can’t help how I think.  I think, based on what I know, that Braun cheated and lucked out.

And if he’s innocent, that’s terribly unfair.

Note: If you want to follow this story, which is very much ongoing, NBC Sports blogger/attorney Craig Calcaterra  is covering it thoroughly and well. Here’s his latest.


[Ugh When this was initially posted, I had a major brain cramp and repeatedly referred to Ryan Braun, the player at issue, as Steve Braun, a decent infielder for the Minnesota Twins who has been retired for almost two decades now. I apologize to Steve, I apologize to Ryan, I apologize to everybody. My wife is right: too much baseball trivia banging around inside my skull.]

17 thoughts on “Ryan Braun, Steroids and Fairness

  1. Ryan Braun’s statement presents a whole different side of the story:

    “[T]he fact that there’s a single number that’s three times higher than any number in the history of drug testing made me question the validity of the result. At that point, I was able to prove to them through contemporaneously documented recordings that I literally didn’t gain a single pound. When we’re in Milwaukee we weigh in at least once or twice a week. I was able to prove that I literally didn’t gain a single pound. Our times are recorded every time we run down the line, first to third, first to home. I literally didn’t get one-tenth of a second faster. My workouts have been virtually the exact same for six years. I didn’t get one percent stronger. I didn’t work out any more often. I didn’t have any additional power or any additional arm strength. All of those things are documented contemporaneously, and if anything had changed, I wouldn’t be able to go back and pretend like it didn’t change.

    “I initially took a humanistic approach and explained to them, ‘I’m 27 years old, I’m just entering my prime, I have a contract guaranteed for nine more years. I’ve been tested 25 times over the course of my career, at least three times this season prior to this test, and an additional time when I signed my contract, including an extensive physical, blood test – everything you could imagine. I’ve never had any issue. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise, and they said, ‘That’s great, we believe you. In fact, the other side believes you. None of this makes any sense to anybody.’ At that point they explained to me the way that the process works, and that the burden of proof falls on us to be able to prove objectively what caused the positive test result, or what could have went wrong during the process that could have possibly led to the positive test result.

    “So at that point, we start looking into the process. It states in the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program that all samples shall be taken immediately to FedEx on the day they’re collected absent unusual circumstances. The reason that this is important, typically the only two people in the world who know whose sample it is are us, the donor, and the collector, who receives our urine samples. In my case there was an additional third person, the son of the collector, who just so happened to be the my chaperone on the day that I was tested. The day of the test we had a 1 o’clock game. I provided my sample at about 4:30. There were two other players who provided their samples that day within 10 minutes of mine. The collector left the field at about 5 o’clock. There were at least five FedEx locations within five miles of the stadium that were open until 9 p.m. and an additional FedEx location that was open for 24 hours. There were upwards of 18 or 19 FedEx locations that were open between the ballpark and his house that he could have dropped the samples off at.

    “When FedEx received the samples, it then creates a chain of custody at the FedEx location where he eventually brought my sample to. It would have been stored in a temperature-controlled environment, and FedEx is used to handling clinical packaging. But most importantly, you then would become a number and no longer a name. So when we provide our samples, there is a number and no longer a name associated with the sample. That way there can’t be any bias – whether it’s with FedEx, while it’s traveling, at the lab in Montreal, in any way – based on somebody’s race, religion, ethnicity, what team they play for, whatever the case may be. As players, the confidentiality of this process is extremely important. It’s always been extremely important, because the only way for the process to succeed is for the confidentiality and the chain of custody to work.

    “Why he didn’t bring it in, I don’t know. On the day that he did finally bring it in, FedEx opened at 7:30. Why didn’t he bring it in until 1:30? I can’t answer that question. Why was there zero documentation? What could have possibly happened to it during that 44-hour period? There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.

    “I want everybody to ask themselves this question: if you guys went to go get a physical, something you’ve done 20-25 other times in your life, and three weeks later and told you that you were terminally ill with a disease, and it made no sense to you. ‘I feel perfectly fine, nothing’s any different than it’s ever been, this doesn’t make any sense,’ and you look back at the process and you find out that your doctor decided to take your urine sample home for a 44-, 48-hour period, there’s no documentation as to what happened. You don’t know if he left it in the trunk of his car, you don’t know where it could have been or what could have potentially happened to it during that period of time. I can assure you that you would never go back to that doctor, and you would demand a re-test.”

    I just do not see why the collector couldn’t have gotten the samples to FedEx that day. FedEx ships medical samples – they even have an ad on that featuring a “gratuitous supermodel cameo”. Instead, the sample sat at the guy’s home (or car) for 44 hours.

    A friend of mine who served eight years in the Marines noted they had a policy of NOT using any sample that sat overnight for drug testing. Why? Because some of the heavier parts of the solution tend to settle, and it messes up the sample.

    The only person Laurenzi has to blame for his reputation being called into question is himself. The sample could have been in FedEx hands that day – and given their expertise, it should have been in those hands ASAP. Locations were open, including a 24-hour location. Instead, they were stored in his basement office – where we don’t know what the temperature was, at the very least. And where were the samples kept on the morning of the day when he finally shipped them? In his car (it can get VERY hot in a car, even in September/October)?

    I’m sorry, but the collector messed up. I am NOT saying he tampered with the sample, but it is clear that he could have gotten it to FedEx far sooner, that FedEx has expertise in handling medical samples, and the right thing to do was to get the samples to FedEx that day – and if there was a screwy result, then Laurenzi would not have been the subject of controversy – he could say, “I dropped it off at location X at time Y the day I collected the sample.”

    Instead, he didn’t, and he not only damaged Ryan Braun’s reputation. but his own in the process.

    • I didn’t say he didn’t screw up, did I? Obviously he did something wrong, because it resulted in the tests being thrown out. Sitting around still wouldn’t magically make a clean specimen super-charged with testosterone.Braun and his defenders, it seems to me, are shifting the focus, which is fine and a dandy legal strategy, but it hardly dispels legitimate doubts. And again…if Braun did use steroids, and the facts as we know them still make that the most likely conclusion, damaging Raun’s reputation is damaging a reputation that should be damaged, but the right way.

      • Here’s the rationale for why Laurenzi’s not an innocent victim:
        If a cop had held on to evidence for 44 hours and had it in his home or his car, it would be ruled invalid and the cop would be getting to know the folks at Internal Affairs.

        If a doctor had taken medical samples home for 44-48 hours, and then sent them to a lab, he’d be accused of malpractice and he’d be sued.

        If a laptop or hard drive of someone involved in a civil case wasn’t promptly delivered to the appropriate professionals to document e-mails, but had been held for 44-48 hours at someone’s home, there would be hell to pay. The courier in question would be fired.

        So why does Laurenzi get a pass for what would clearly be seen as malfeasance in the above three cases?

        At best, he was sloppy with the samples from Braun and two other players (we don’t know who they are, because those samples were thrown out).

      • Sitting around still wouldn’t magically make a clean specimen super-charged with testosterone

        Sitting around in a heated environment absolutely can change the make up of a urine sample and invalidate a test. That’s high school chemistry. Increased temperatures lead to pH changes and changed catalyzation of basic chemical processes. This absolutely can change the relative amounts of different chemicals (which is what is actually tested).

        This isn’t a technicality.

    • As for Braun’s “logical” arguments: they come down to “the steroids didn’t work” and “I’m so good I don’t need them.” The first is irrelevant: the act of cheating has nothing to do with what results from the cheating….the offense is the same. As for the “why would I do it?” argument…well, that applies to Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and many other players who we know DID use PEDs. Greed? Hubris? Who knows?

      To win the MVP award?

  2. Congratulations on winning an argument with a statement I never made. The word “technicality” does not appear in my post. What you say is correct. And I repeat: “Sitting around still wouldn’t magically make a clean specimen super-charged with testosterone.” The leaked reports on the test—and yes, this was also a violation of Braun’s rights—said that the samples weren’t just positive, they were “crazy” positive…super-juiced.

    • You don’t have to use a specific word to use that meaning. In this case, I was responding directly to your comment, where you said: “…if Braun did use steroids, and the facts as we know them still make that the most likely conclusion, […]”

      If that’s not an argument that this was a technicality, that I don’t know what is.

      You also repeat as true what I specifically debunked, and your evidence is that the samples were ridiculous, which is actually evidence against your position.

      • You are seriously arguing that a substance that was not present in a sample suddenly appeared as the result of storage? No account, scientific or otherwise. alleges that. I agree that the super-positve result raises a prima facie case that something was wrong with the test result., if not the sample.

        I don’t view a failure to have proper procedures as a technicality at all. Your assumption is not warranted.

        • If by substance you mean the basic building blocks are not there, then no. If by substance you mean the amount of androgen compared to the amounts of other compounds, then yes, that is what I’m arguing and that IS supported by the science.

          Do you not remember your high school chemistry? Do you not remember memorizing things like: 2X + 3Y + catalyst => 5Z.

          You’re claim is that chemical reactions are impossible.

          I don’t view a failure to have proper procedures as a technicality at all. Your assumption is not warranted.

          I’m not making an assumption. You claimed that the means of storage couldn’t change the chemical makeup. That would make the violation of storage procedure (not chain of custody) a technicality. Also, your claim that the evidence is still against Braun says that you still generally trust the drug test. Your claim is that the violation of procedures isn’t likely to have made any difference in the test. A procedural misstep that doesn’t affect anything? That’s the definition of a technicality.

        • What substance are they saying was present? If its something that occurs in the body naturally but then mishandling the sample could possibly cause the sample to read as if he had ingested more of the substance.

  3. It seems like they had a pretty lousy policy. Having the collector keep the samples at their house is not a great idea. I am not sure how long such samples are good, and they normally need to be refrigerated. All kinds of reactions occur at room temperature in two days that could make some odd things appear. I would argue that it is more likely that a steroid level would appear artificially LOW after such a treatment (it is more likely to degrade than form), but I don’t know what metabolite they are actually testing for in that case. I definitely wouldn’t trust and alcohol test with handling like that because alcohol is a common breakdown product of many things in the body (which is why they use the vitreous humor for postmortem BAC’s).

    • I believe they test for relative amounts of the compound, not just how much exists in isolation. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be hard to water down a sample. If other compounds broke down or were catalyzed at a faster rate (just spitballing here), that would make this compound’s level appear to be to high.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.