Ryan Braun has already damaged his reputation — perhaps irreversibly so — with much of baseball’s fan base. He has quickly become one of the least-popular players in the league after vehemently denying PED usage after he won his original appeal. After all, people don’t enjoy being lied to. In particular, many Brewers fans feel betrayed by Braun and have been extremely vocal in their criticisms of him and his actions.
While none of this is new, recent reports over the weekend could fan the flames and further entrench Braun’s status as a pariah within the game of baseball.
ESPN released a report on Sunday, stating Braun called numerous big-named veterans to ask for support in his 2012 appeal. That may seem innocuous — and perhaps even expected — but things got cringe-worthy when the report said Braun attempted to discredit the urine sample collector by suggesting he was an anti-Semite and a Cubs’ fan. Essentially, he maliciously labeled Dino Laurenzi Jr. as a religious bigot to cast doubts on what he believed would be an unsuccessful appeal attempt.
Furthermore, a long-time friend, Ralph Sasson, has sued Braun for defamation and made numerous incendiary claims within the lawsuit. This includes taking PEDs at the University of Miami, engaging in academic misconduct at Miami and even accepting money while playing as an amateur at the university. It then proceeds to outline all the significant people Braun lied to after the appeal, injuring the reputation of Sasson in the process.
If Ryan Braun thought he could quietly serve his suspension and return next season amidst little fanfare, he was sorely mistaken. In an effort to protect his sterling reputation and image, he has caused himself a host of trouble. And that reputation he so painstakingly sought to keep intact will become more and more tarnished. It’s one thing to suggest the sample collector made a mistake which could have created a false positive, but it’s something wholly different to suggest a human being knowingly attempted to sabotage one’s career because he hates Jewish people. That’s utterly reprehensible.
Of course, I’ve said multiple times in previous articles that baseball is no place to search for morality. As a society, we continuously place sports stars on pedestals, only to watch those pedestals crumble after we realize said sports star is just a human being who makes human being mistakes. And I still believe that. Ryan Braun didn’t betray anyone by taking performance-enhancing drugs, aside from maybe himself. He certainly doesn’t need to earn back the trust of the fan base — because the common fan had no reason to “trust” him in the first place. There are so few people in this world who were in a position to know whether Ryan Braun took PEDs, yet countless Brewers fans claimed to “know” he was innocent. For some reason, professional sports cause normal people to become emotionally invested in people they’ve never met. Perhaps that’s the power of sports. I don’t know.
But labeling someone as an anti-Semite to protect one’s reputation will certainly put that separation of sport and individual to the test. Many people will not be able to cheer for someone like that. And I understand that sentiment. At the same time, will Brewers fans still cheer when he launches a walk-off home run next season? Will they still cheer when he makes an improbable diving catch in left field on a wicked sinking line drive?
I believe they will. In fact, I know they will.
Because the sport and the team are what matters. We want to feel connected to the individuals because we invest so much of our emotional energy into the well-being of our favorite sports team, but we’re quick to tear up that allegiance once that individual spurns our team for another. For example, after spending years worshipping him, many St. Louis Cardinals fans couldn’t care less about Albert Pujols now that he’s with Los Angeles. It’s that simple. Our allegiance is to the jersey and the game itself, not to the individual. Perhaps there are some former Brewers we still look upon fondly, such as Prince Fielder and CC Sabathia, but they’re still the opponent when they return to Miller Park.
Ryan Braun clearly hasn’t done himself any favors the past couple years. He’s handled this situation about as poorly as a single person could. His character has been exposed. At the same time, his personal character traits don’t ultimately matter when it comes to baseball. Perhaps one could argue his actions could cause problems in the clubhouse — and that would be a legitimate baseball discussion, though largely speculative — but in left field or in the batter’s box, his character does not matter.
It feels somewhat hollow to say that. We want children to have positive role models, and we want to feel like we’re cheering for good people. But it ultimately doesn’t matter. All that matters is the production on the diamond. The sooner we realize that — and the sooner we stop idolizing sports figures — the more we’ll be able to better enjoy the greatest game on earth.