Late yesterday afternoon, Major League Baseball suspended Ryan Braun for the rest of the season for violating the league’s drug policy, and today (and every day for the foreseeable future), it will be open season on Braun’s character.
Of course, that’s justified. In light of everything that’s happened over this past year, Braun’s proven to be a serious dope. It’s not just that he lied, it’s that, much like Lance Armstrong, he lied to everyone (friends, family and teammates) and did so repeatedly. He also, much like Armstrong, didn’t care whom he hurt (innocent or not) on the path to perpetuating those lies.
And now he’s been revealed as a fraud.
At this point, don’t be surprised if all sorts of stories come pouring out of the woodwork; if old friends, former teammates and past lovers begin to surface with tales of how they’ve been wronged in the past by Braun, and how he was never truly whom he appeared to be. That’s what happens in situations like this. When someone is exposed the way that Braun has been, the world loves to pile on; everyone wants a part of the action. And before you know it, the shock and outrage reaches a level where you’d think that Braun was the first person in the history of the Earth to lie or just live a generally amoral existence; as if we don’t encounter people like that every single day of our lives, and in some cases, even are those people.
Typically, I hate this type of thing. I can’t stand the race among every sports reporter and columnist in the country to tear someone like Braun a new one in the most indignant way possible, as if they’ll be the voice to finally make us understand what a doofus Braun really is. Why? Because we don’t need it. I’m pretty sure everyone gets it. Like I said, we encounter people like Braun all the time, almost every day; it’s not breaking news when anyone (especially a professional athlete) is revealed to be a liar or an a-hole.
But in this case, I guess there’s at least one positive to be gained from the widespread media torching of Braun, not only as a player, but also as a human being: Deterrence.
As baseball moves forward in this constant and hopefully fruitful fight against PEDs, deterrence is really the only thing they’ve got going for it. It doesn’t matter how hard they work to teach this or the next generation of players that PEDs are bad for you, or bad for the game, or just generally the wrong thing to do, because a lot of people don’t care.
At the end of the day, PEDs still make you a better baseball player. The technology will always be ahead of the testing. If players want to use, the option will always be there. In a related story, there will always be players who want to use. Try as you may to instill a sense of values and create a generation of athlete who cares too much about the purity of the game to ever use an illegal substance, you’ll ultimately fail. It’s naïve to assume anything else.
So, in the end, all you have is deterrence. All you can do is make an example of the players who do get caught. To tar and feather them, pin up their image and scream to the rest of the player pool: THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET CAUGHT. THIS IS WHAT BECOMES OF YOUR LIFE. IS THIS REALLY WORTH CHEATING THE GAME? IS THIS REALLY WORTH CHEATING THE FANS?!
And I guess the media outrage (even if it often appears to be more personal, then productive) along with steeper penalties like the one levied on Braun, and the ones that will hit Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the Biogenesis clan, can help with that.
That said, for some players, using will still be worth it. After all, those PEDs helped Braun “earn” a five-year/$120 million contract that’s still coming his way, despite this recent suspension. If he plays his cards right, not only his children but his grandchildren should live a good life on “bad” decisions that Braun made. And he’s a guy who was brought up in a stable, two-parent, middle class home in California; a kid who only got one grade less than an “A” in high school, and probably could have gone on to live a successful life even if baseball wasn’t a possibility. Compare that to the kids living in poverty in the Dominican and other Latin countries, who are raised to believe (and justifiably so), that baseball is the only way out.
You really think the fear of hefty suspensions, the words of angered columnists and general humiliation will scare them off? Probably not. It wasn’t enough to scare off Braun.
But as we move forward, the hope is that will scare off some. And that “some” will be marked and remembered as progress made in the fight against PEDs.
It’s a fight that won’t be ending anytime soon. But at the very least, it appears that the commissioners office and the baseball writers are finally ready to put up their dukes.