Americans don’t have labor consciousness. You might say, “what on earth does this have to do with anything baseball related?,” but luckily, we’re talking about baseball labor. One of the striking aspects of the public response to the Ryan Braun decision — besides the willingness of many people to simply disregard the evidence and implications of the Braun decision and flat out label Braun a cheater — is the extent to which fans are surprised by MLB’s conduct following the decision.
I spoke with my Dad last night, and he echoed the same sentiment that a lot of people have voiced — “why on earth did MLB say they disagreed with the decision?” Well, it’s simple — this was a labor battle, between MLB and MLBPA, ownership and players, and MLB obviously cast its vote against Braun. Their vote isn’t going to change if Braun is cleared by the MLBPA vote and the independent arbitrator — their position remains the same, in the grand scheme of things. Their vote upholds the testing protocol, and their stake of interest in maintaining a negligence-based testing procedure.
If you’re asking, “why does Braun’s image have to suffer at the hands of MLB comments?,” well, that’s how MLB will continue to maintain and defend their interests. The MLB press juggernaut continued their defense of their interests and position on Friday evening, as reported by Barry M. Bloom at MLB.com:
“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.”
You might forgive Americans for believing that Braun is a cheater, reading statements like this. Taken on its own, the statement that Braun’s party and the MLBPA never contended that the sample was tampered (or produced evidence to that effect), looks like a not-so-subtle statement that, “whatever was in the sample was in the sample,” and of course, Braun therefore was exonerated thanks to a technicality. No wonder MLB will defend its collections agency before its NL MVP!
The truth is, Braun never needed to argue that collections agency tampered with the evidence. His camp replicated scientific results, according to Will Carroll and WEEI-Boston, that proved how a sample can degrade over a span of nearly 48 hours if not handled according to protocol and tested ASAP. From that perspective, Braun certainly did not win his case on a technicality — he challenged the very validity of the test on the basis of broken protocol.
Here we have two distinct pieces of information about Braun’s case: (a) his camp did not argue that the collectors tampered with the sample, and (b) his camp did argue that the sample degraded or was compromised due to broken protocol. That’s a very specific set of arguments that, yes, means that whatever was in the sample when it was tested was probably in the sample when it was collected, but those contents degraded over time, calling testing validity into question.
(This is to everyone that still thinks: “well, it’s fine that Braun got off on a technicality, but don’t expect me to believe that Braun’s sample was clean.” Evidence doesn’t work that way — when there are questions about the very validity of evidence, you can’t make statements about the contents of the evidence. There’s no logical way to say “Braun was not suspended” and “Braun was a cheater.” It doesn’t work that way because the argument that “Braun was a cheater” depends on faulty evidence that resulted in “Braun was not suspended.” The two concepts are mutually exclusive. If you want to believe that anyway, fine, but know that you’re not entitled to false opinions, and you obviously don’t care about facts, evidence, transparency, or skepticism. Yes, I mean that personally. You’re just wrong.)
This is where a lack of labor consciousness comes into play. Americans are not trained to have, as workers, a mistrust of or opposition to the motives of ownership/management. Since those motives are not called into question, the information presented by parties defending ownership motives seems valid and plausible — Americans ask, why wouldn’t an organization look out for the best interests of their employees? Therefore, Americans can and will continue to think that Braun cheated, so long as MLB protects its interests and defends its case and its testing process in a manner that obscures the facts about Braun’s case.
One of the problems with the outcome of this case is that neither the MLB nor the MLBPA seem destined to extended conflict. This is the MLB of labor peace, avoiding work stoppages and animosity at any cost since the 1994 work stoppage, and the MLBPA’s statements convey that sentiment:
“As has happened several times before with other matters, this case has focused the parties’ attention on an aspect of our program that can be improved,” said Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director. “After discussions with the Commissioner’s Office, we are confident that all collections going forward will follow the parties’ agreed-upon rules.”
“Our Joint Drug Program stands as strong, as accurate and as reliable as any in sport, both before and after the Braun decision. The breach of confidentiality associated with this matter is unfortunate but, after investigation, we are confident that it was not caused by the Commissioner’s Office, the MLBPA or anyone associated in any way with the program. In all other respects, the appeals process worked as designed; the matter was vigorously contested and the independent and neutral arbitrator issued a decision deserving of respect by both bargaining parties.”
While MLBPA is upholding their decision, their public statements are not defending their interests as aggressively as MLB is asserting their interests. As a result, Braun’s case will remain one in which information hinting at his guilt will continue to surface, despite the victory of his party. MLBPA is rightfully happy with the arbitration results, and therefore, content to stop there with their press remarks. As a result, MLB will have plenty of opportunities to establish questions and assumptions about Braun’s “cheating.”
If this surprises you, think about the motives and interests of the MLB: to protect the validity of their testing, they need to maintain the idea that positive tests cannot be challenged, that cheating is cheating, and that use of banned substances will not be tolerated, whatsoever. Of course, legal, collectively-bargained procedures will never be able to correspond one-to-one with the moral desire to see positive tests yield suspensions. That’s not going to stop the MLB from changing their interests and publicly presenting their interests in that way.
So, don’t feel badly for Braun that the MLB did not immediately come forward and proclaim their excitement at how their process worked, and how Braun received his day of justice. That was never their intent; Braun is indeed guilty in their eyes, and for sports fans that have trusting and naive opinions about management parties, that opinion reflects as strongly on Braun as all the evidence that favors his exoneration.
But, don’t mind me while I celebrate labor’s victory. This was a big one, and I feel like anyone that cares about evidence, transparency, logic, and skepticism (and labor) should be really excited about Braun’s victory. Luckily, I’m a Brewers fan, so watching a motivated-Braun will be even sweeter for me.