Here at Disciples of Uecker, J.P. Breen and Jaymes Langrehr presented informative, concise reporting about Ryan Braun‘s alleged links to Miami’s Biogenesis clinic, and the Yahoo! Sports report that leaked documents pertaining to Braun and the Biogenesis clinic. While they covered a lot of ground, and presented a lot of arguments that I agree with, I still have this gnawing feeling about the reception Braun received from reporters and fans. So, I want to construct an argument about evidence and guilt, and analyze the experience of Braun’s trials and tribulations at each step. Given that so many fans (and, apparently, reporters) believe that Braun used PEDs, I want to examine (and hopefully, disprove) the reasons that one might be drawn to that position.
Braun’s Defense Reporting
From MLB.com to Fox News to Yahoo! Sports, Braun’s 2012 appeal of his alleged failed test is reported as a technicality. Fans might be pardoned for believing that Braun used PEDs when they read reporting like this, from MLB.com in 2012:
“The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun’s case acted in a professional and appropriate manner,” said Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources. “He handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs — including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“Our program is not ‘fatally flawed.’ Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator’s decision. Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”
“First he was accused of failing a drug test just months after winning his National League MVP Award in 2011. Well, he actually wasn’t accused. He failed the test. In fact his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio in the specimen was nearly 20:1, or five times the amount needed for suspension. But the results were thrown out on appeal, because proper protocol was not followed in the days after the test.”
“While Braun never contested the findings of the test, which found elevated testosterone levels in his urine, a 50-game suspension was overturned after chain-of-custody issues arose from the test-taker keeping the specimen in his basement over the weekend instead of immediately shipping it to a testing lab. Braun denied use of testosterone publicly.”
One might be pardoned for reading reporting like this and believing that Braun’s successful appeal was a technicality. The problem, however, is that Braun’s appeal also included a successful replication of a positive test due to a degraded sample. Will Carroll reported this to WEEI-Boston, as another significant step in Braun’s appeal.
To focus only on the chain of custody issue is to miss the point about what Braun’s defense actually accomplished. Braun’s team called into question the very evidence that allegedly tied him to PED use. Even to follow that fact with a statement such as, “well, the protocols followed by the test-taker matched World Anti-Doping Agency’s standards” fails to call Braun’s defense into question. For, even in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s writing, the issue of sample degradation and temperature shifts is noted (see 9.3.2, page 40).
Obviously, it’s difficult for sports fans to navigate this type of gray area. But, one doesn’t just find synthetic testosterone in a urine sample the way one finds a piece of cork in wine, or a container of Greek Yogurt in the ‘fridge. Testing for these types of substances requires some manipulation of the very samples in order to find evidence of PED-use, which means that the validity of a sample is crucial to the validity of the test.
To call into question the validity of the sample, and to replicate a positive test from a degraded sample, is to call into question the very validity of the evidence. One cannot even say “Braun failed a steroids test;” in fact, that minimal statement about the initial test is the “technicality” involved in Braun’s case. While it’s technically true to say that we learned of an alleged failed test involving Braun, it’s also true to say that the test itself was called into question during Braun’s appeal.
Of course, it’s extremely difficult to report that type of gray area. Yet, that type of gray area is precisely the conclusion of Braun’s appeal. While news reporters can focus on the “chain-of-custody” line, they should also inform their readers that that line is only one part of Braun’s defense. However, given the MLB’s immediate reaction to Braun’s successful appeal, one cannot be surprised that reporters continue to write about Braun’s appeal in a way that makes it appear to be a technicality.
This does not provide any evidence that Braun used PEDs. That’s the ultimate gray area, the ultimate conclusion of the entire appeals process last year.
Prior to any mention of Braun’s name in the Biogenesis records, the Miami New Times issued a report on the Miami clinic that allegedly established details about the clinic’s background, clients, and dealings with MLB players. Several interesting sequences of events occurred following this story, including Anthony Bosch distancing himself from dealing with MLB players, and noting that the report was “filled with inaccuracies, innuendos, and misstatements.”
Beyond public statements from ballplayers and clinic-owners alike denying involvement with PEDs, the actual procedures involved with the leak are quite interesting:
(a) In the initial report, Miami New Times linked Washington Nationals southpaw Gio Gonzalez to Biogenesis, but did not link Gonzalez to any specific banned substances.
(b) Following that report, Gonzalez (among others) issued a statement denying involvement with Biogenesis.
(c) Following an initial MLB.com report about the Miami New Times article, and the MLB.com notes that Gonzalez’s name was not linked to PEDs, Miami New Times released more documents allegedly linking Gonzalez to PEDs.
(d) In these original reports, which included names of players not previously publicly connected to any PED allegations, the Miami New Times removed Braun’s name from the documents they published.
(e) One week later, Yahoo! Sports leaked documents linking Braun’s name to Biogenesis, without linking Braun’s name to any specific PEDs. Yahoo! Sports also noted that Miami New Times did not publish Braun’s name in their original report.
EDIT (11:17 AM): Miami New Times issued an article explaining their reasoning in not releasing specific names:
“Yahoo!’s story raises an obvious question. If Braun’s and Cervelli’s names appear in the Bosch records at the heart of New Times’ investigation — and indeed, Yahoo!’s report does appear to match New Times’records — why didn’t we report them in our first story?
Simple: an abundance of caution.
As Yahoo! notes, the records do not clearly associate either Braun, Cervelli, or a third player who this morning denied all ties with Bosch (Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia) with use of supplements. Yahoo! apparently obtained copies of just these page of Bosch’s notebooks independently of New Times.”
Furthermore, Sports Illustrated is now another source that leaked information not originally reported by Miami New Times.
This sequence of events is maddening. Beyond the fact that the leaks were continuous and active, rather than comprehensive, beyond the quality of the documents — the hand-written, scrawled documents look worse than some of the 19th century birth records and documents I used to work with at an archive — the manner in which sources from the clinic, as well as reporters, released the documents raises numerous questions:
(1) How active is the person leaking the documents? Will they continuously release different documents to different sources? One of the problems with the fact that the clinic’s “source” released the documents to different publications is that a comprehensive study and corroboration of the information in the documents is now impossible.
One of the problems with the fact that different types of information were leaked at different points by Miami New Times and Yahoo! Sports is that those different reports call into question the conclusion or veracity of the initial reports. If the reports remain active and introduce new information, what does that say about the initial information released?
(2) One of the effects of releasing the documents to different publications is that different editors, writers, and investigations can view the validity of the information in different ways. For example, we know, as fact, that Miami New Times did not publish Braun’s name when they published their initial report; in fact, as reported, they removed Braun’s name from their report. This should immediately call into question Yahoo! Sports‘ reporting on Braun’s inclusion in the documents. What decisions are their editors making that the New Times editors decided against?
This is ultimately what I can’t get past in this new, baffling series of events: Miami New Times passed at the “scoop” of a century. If Braun’s name was allegedly tied to anything remotely suspicious in the Biogenesis documents, Miami New Times would have published those documents. We know this because they did so with documents allegedly involving players previously connected with PEDs, as well as players that have no known connection with PEDs to this point. In this case, even those allegations have not been verified by MLB, but in terms of a news scoop, Miami New Times stumbled upon one of the most damning — if strange — piles of evidence involving baseball and PEDs that we’ve seen in quite some time.
If a publication had the chance to break a story linking the 2011 MVP — and the first player to (knowingly and publicly) appeal an allegedly failed test — to PEDs, wouldn’t they have taken that opportunity? After all, their research and editorial decisions resulted in a report that released new names allegedly connected to PEDs, so they obviously weren’t shy about potentially damaging those players’ reputations and careers. That the original report did not include Braun’s name — or, actively removed Braun’s name — should raise questions about the validity or importance of Braun’s alleged inclusion in those documents.
Once again, we’re left with a gray area involving Ryan Braun, allegations of PED use, and suspicious evidence (or faulty evidence). The questions about these documents are not as sound as the science involved with replicating a positive test from a degraded urine sample, but they are questions that immediately relate to the basic goals of journalism. The goal of “investigative journalism,” and journalism in general, is to beat everyone to the story; now, obviously most news sources want their information to be true, but in the case of a potentially huge story, I gather that it is in the interests of news publications to err on the side of breaking the story. In some cases, the truth will fall into place later, or later investigations will shine more light on the truth.
In many ways, this is what happened with the first Braun report. We weren’t even supposed to know about Braun’s alleged positive test; those test results were protected by confidentiality clauses in the MLB and MLBPA’s Joint Drug Agreement. Faced with the chance to break a story, faced with extremely shocking information, the leak about Braun’s alleged test result made its way to the public. After that report, we learned about numerous steps in Braun’s appeals process — again, information we never should have been able to discuss — and we ultimately learned the reasons that Braun successfully appealed the supposedly positive test.
Evidence is often gray, and it often is revealed in layers. It is difficult for us to stay away from judgments involving initial stages of evidence, but we have to keep digging, or wait until we have more facts to form our judgments. In this regard, if you’re still charging ahead with your statements about Braun using PEDs, you’re still making incomplete, or false statements. Instead of understanding the steps in Braun’s appeals process, or instead of following the different actions news sources took with Braun’s alleged appearance in those Biogenesis “documents,” it is much easier for the news media, and sports fans to plow through the evidence with their indignation and bloodlust.
What is true cannot accommodate steamrollers, it cannot correspond to coercion, it does not exist in brash judgments; the authority of an assertion is not the authority of truth. While news sources have led sports fans astray in Braun’s case, reporting on his case as though he were guilty all along, even after his successful appeal, it is up to sports fans to ignore the easy path of authoritarian judgments and follow the tricky, winding path of evidence. Ultimately, sports fans must ask themselves why they are so concerned to judge players on limited, incomplete, or false information.
I understand that most fans won’t do this, and if I’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that fans still don’t actually care if Braun actually look PEDs or not, but in the very core of my being I still know that they’re wrong. The fact that fans continue to willingly judge Braun and other players — without evidence — bothers me so much more than any actual PED use in baseball.
Yahoo! Sports, MLB.com, FOX News, and any other news sources cited where linked.
References drawn from the following DoU articles:
“The Great Ron Roenicke Swindle” and “MLB: Management Being Management,” and where linked.