In his Insider-only column today, Buster Olney suggests that the best way for Ryan Braun to start rehabilitating his image would be to offer to give back his MVP award at the BBWAA awards dinner tonight, all while maintaining his innocence. I’m not an Insider subscriber, so I can’t read the whole article, but based on what Olney and others are saying on Twitter, I gather that the main thrust of the idea is summed up by this paragraph from the publicly available intro:
The best chance for Braun to extricate something good from his situation would be to stand up on the dais Saturday, hold the NL MVP trophy in his hands — and offer to give it back to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America at its annual New York dinner, even while maintaining his innocence. This gesture would elevate Braun and separate him from the legions of athletes who have issued denials in the face of accusations of performance-enhancing drug use.
Suffice to say, I disagree. But more important than my disagreement is the mindset I think Olney is portraying here. What sort of person would think more highly of Braun if he did something like this? I believe it would be someone who views Braun’s positive test as a potential hero’s tragic downfall, which can only be overcome through some act of noble sacrifice. In other words, I think giving back the MVP would only elevate Braun in the eyes of a sportswriter. The average fan would see it as an admission of guilt, so from a PR perspective it really makes no sense. But the Buster Olneys of the world would love it, as it would fulfill their desire to see sports as a world of mythological heroes making grand gestures and struggling with mortal temptation in their quest for honor and valor. Unfortunately for them, that’s just not accurate. Entertaining and enjoyable as they may be, these are games, mere games, played by men, not gods.
Suppose Ryan Braun gives back his MVP award tonight. When he hits a go-ahead home run at Wrigley Field next season, will the legions of Cubs fans prepared to scream “CHEATER!” bite their tongues as they think of the selfless sacrifice he made for the sanctity of the game? No, they will merely shout it with all the more conviction that they’re correct, because it was never about the sanctity of the game—it was all about the sanctimony of the sportswriter.