Ryan Braun: Science, Legality, and Some Thoughts

Posted: February 25, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: , , ,

To frame my thoughts on NL MVP Ryan Braun’s successful appeal, it seems only fair to outline the story as I see it from multiple media outlets before getting to the nitty gritty.

ESPN’s Outside the Line features a detailed write up on the chronology of events including the Braun offer to take a DNA test, Major League Baseball’s rejection of the DNA offer, and the forward thinking component popularized by the Thursday announcement and Friday media frenzy.

Being that I am unfamiliar with the legal field, I thought it helpful to hit up my main man – and University of Chicago Law School graduate – Lester Munson for insight on the case.  By “hit up” I mean provide you with his legal take on the issue in writing and via radio on Mike and Mike in the Morning (for the listening inclined).

Being that I am also not a real scientist, this Sports Illustrated piece provides solid background from the CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency on the consequences of leaving sealed urine in one’s refrigerator.   Also, here is a link to an interview Bob Ley did with Dr. Gary Wadler, Chairman of the World Doping Agency on the validity of the tests.

Finally, Yahoo!Sports’ Jeff Passan gives us a hint into the collector, what happened to the sample, and all that you need to know about urine in a container!

Since I am tired of the story at large, here is my entire take on the process from beginning to end.

  • Some raised questions about the ability to test on weekends given this issue with FedEx/Kinko’s locations being closed early and all together on Sundays.  I have no problem with this.  I like my random drug/performance enhancement to be as random as possible especially given the advancements in 24-48 performance enhancers popularized by cycling.  Not being an expert, I DO trust when the experts say that the dual test of testosterone levels and synthetic testosterone were legitimate and would not be impacted by its location in someone’s refrigerator.
  • At this point, I also believe that the sample was not tainted.  I am happy to hear all three seals were intact and that the tape used on the container releases a foul smell to indicate tampering.  I am actually familiar with that technology (I did forensic science work before the field was popularized by network crime shows) and it is valid.
  • Why does FedEx have a monopoly in the transfer of MLB player’s urine samples?  Why not another carrier?  This is very interesting and mildly fascinating.  I wonder if we will see commercials of FedEx the official carrier of ALL THINGS baseball.  They should get Moises Alou to do a commercial for them!
  • The entire process absolutely worked.  Everyone discussing how this appeal is a blow to the MLB testing policy is dead wrong.  This process does not dismiss the previous successful positive tests or the more numerous negative tests by non-PED users.  The problem obviously is with the overly detailed yet vague language on shipping samples out to the appropriate authorities.  Yes, this handler under these rules did not follow the agreed upon protocol.  No, I do not think that accounts for the result.
  • I also have major issues with outsiders being exposed to a little information and assuming they know it all.  It happens the most with people assessing coaching.  Most of the work of coaches is done in practice and not during gameplay.  The same is with the sample collector.  People immediately saw this person collects urine samples for MLB as a part time job and went nuts – calling this person incompetent and blaming MLB for not hiring full time pee-in-cup teams.  Fact is most people collect samples as a part time job and that has NO BEARING on their competence.
  • Many people are upset that some are suggesting Braun “got off on a technicality.”  Well, he did.  Get over it.  Sources say that tampering with the sample never was a defense used in the case.  The result of the sample was NOT in question.  This literally was a case of protocol violation and subsequent questions of legitimacy.  The fact that the defense proceeded in this manner plus the scientists lining up outlining that the process the collector took would not change the scientific results is doesn’t help Braun at all.  Braun won because MLB could not adequately show that their agreed upon protocol was followed.
  • Others raised the issue of the DNA test and MLB’s refusal to comply.  I actually do not know when this option first came about but I do not really have an issue with MLB refusing to do a DNA test.  Introducing these elements of doubt would undoubtedly raise unnecessary attention and doubt into previous tests and absolutely undermine the legitimacy of the process.  If people think the testing system took a stomach punch today, the process of testing DNA would be a sledgehammer to the core.
  • Along with the loose language which will be fixed for transport/handling of urine (brought to you by FedEx), the most infuriating thing is the stupid appeals panel with three representatives: one from the Commissioner’s Office, one from the MLB Players Association, and a third party arbitrator.  According to Buster Olney, to my surprise, the MLBPA representative always votes in favor of the players; the Commissioner’s office representative almost always votes against the players (or for MLB but that can be confusing because I doubt MLB wants more steroid/PED attention).  How in the hell did these two sides agree to this dumb set up!?  Did no one expect for votes to all come down to the arbitrator?  Was this a case of: everyone gets a vote because we like working together!?  It is the worst system in sports.  Stupid.  Do. Better.
  • Finally, why are there so many leaks in Major League Baseball?  Confidential and private just do not exist in today’s news/entertainment culture but this is pretty darn ridiculous.  Smoke out the leak and tighten up the rules.

So there you go.  Not guilty on a technicality with mountains of science screaming foul play with a legitimate sample.  The good news is baseball dominated headlines!  The bad news is it only seems to get headlines when associated with PED, investigation, and possibly calling the judge.

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