As the Ryan Braun case retreats from the sports headlines, there are several unsettling issues that linger on.
Ryan Braun comes across as likable and non-arrogant, so it is easy to feel happy for him to have won his appeal on the doping charges against him. (Would we be as charitable if it was Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens?)
In his press conference Braun repeatedly proclaimed that the testing system was flawed, and that the appeal system worked because he was able to prove his innocence. This is a bit of a stretch, since the arbitration panel did not declare him innocent; but rather they determined that there were legitimate grounds, based on the urine collection issues raised, to support his appeal. In protesting that "we're in a system where you're 100 percent guilty until proven innocent," Ryan Braun was eerily echoing the familiar refrain of Roger Clemens in his interview on 60 Minutes, but Braun's cause is not served well by aligning himself with the rhetoric of Clemens, who many people believe to be untruthful.
Despite the panel's decision, polls indicate that the majority of the public (outside of the Milwaukee area) believe that Braun is guilty of using p.e.d.s. It is noteworthy with regard to,athletes accused of cheating, the public reaction has morphed from a cry of moral outrage circa 2000 when the mantra was steroid users cheapen the integrity of the sport, to reactions of cynicism and indifference.
In this era of open and unrestrained media coverage, and the corresponding cavalcade of sports stars and celebrities who turn out not to be who and what they appear to be, sports scandals, previously viewed as shocking, are now quickly dismissed as mundane and unimportant. We have been disillusioned so many times by our sports heroes who cross the line of integrity, that we are becoming numb and immune to the impact of further disappointments. We were captivated by the beautiful smile of Marion Jones as she denied knowingly using steroids, and then deceived, when subsequently, she was sent to prison for lying about it to federal authorities. After recurrent disillusionments we become wary and hesitant to trust that our sports stars can be clean.
Even though Ryan Braun compellingly and compassionately exclaimed, "I would bet my life that the substance never entered my body at any point," it also requires some suspension of belief to embrace the position that the collection sample was tampered with. Anything is possible, and we probably will never know the full truth.
Braun is understandably relieved about the ruling, and he now represents the symbol for athletes fighting against allegations that are perceived as unfair and imposed by a powerful system.
Perhaps, what is most important to consider is the psychic toll placed upon Ryan Braun. Guilty of juicing or not, he has been crucified by the media. The assault on his integrity, and the character assassination and ridicule directed at him as a phony MVP were excessive, and may leave him psychologically scarred. He is determined to regain the mantle of the star player who won the MVP award, but, nevertheless, the media vilification and the damage done to his reputation may have an enduring impact; and I would not be surprised if his productivity on the field is adversely affected.
In describing the ordeal of the process Ryan Braun is really making a plea for our sensitivity and compassion. That much he deserves, because psychologically he may have suffered more than the pain inlicted by a fifty gain suspension.
Stanley H. Teitelbaum, Ph.D. is the author of, Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side and Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols.
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