Ryan Braun's steroid suspension overturned because pee collector thought FedEx was closed
An arbitration panel ruled Braun's urine sample was unreliable because the collector, thinking FedEx was closed, took it home with him.
Ryan Braun's "good name and reputation" was saved yesterday, in a roundabout way, by FedEx/Kinkos.
In a controversial and surprising 2-1 vote, an arbitration panel voted to sustain a grievance Braun filed challenging his 50-game suspension by Major League Baseball. ESPN reported that the MLB "is livid" at the panel's decision.
Braun, 28, was the National League's MVP last season while having a great all-around season for the NL Central-winning Milwaukee Brewers. In December, ESPN scooped the usually confidential information that Braun would be suspended for 50 games of the 2012 season after an October urine sample revealed an extremely elevated level of testosterone in his system. His reputation in tatters, Braun challenged the suspension, but his chances of winning the appeal seemed slim-to-none -- Braun's victory represents the first time a drug suspension has been overturned by grievance in baseball history.
In the grievance, Braun's representation didn't challenge the fact that the sample revealed the presence of copious synthetic testosterone in the slugger's system -- rather, they challenged the urine sample collection procedure.
The MLB directs urine collectors to ship the sample to a lab for analysis as soon as possible. But the collector who dealt with Braun's pee, thinking FedEx was closed, took the sample home and refrigerated it for two days before shipping it to the lab. Braun's representation argued that the delay opened up the possibility that the sample was contaminated or not even Braun's, despite the fact that seals on the sample remained unbroken throughout.
Braun passed a handful of drug tests last season prior to October's positive result. Upon being informed of the suspension, he reportedly asked to have another test taken, and the testosterone levels in that sample were within the normal range.
Ultimately, the key vote on the arbitration panel was cast by independent arbitrator Shyam Das. The other two arbitrators consisted of a representative from the MLB and a representative from the players' association, both of whom predictably vote in accordance with the interests of their respective employers.
Many baseball observers called for the MLB to strip Braun's 2011 MVP award following news of the positive test. Upon learning his appeal was successful, Braun issued a statement. In part, it says:
We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.
Commissioner Bud Selig is reportedly so confident the panel's decision is mistaken that a federal lawsuit is being considered.
The MLB meanwhile, is reportedly considering a federal lawsuit to have Das' decision overturned. A statement from the league said that while the MLB has always respected the arbitration process, the league "vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das."
Will the successful appeal be enough to truly restore Braun's good reputation? Probably not. After all, Barry Bonds, the archetypal 'roided-up slugger, was never caught red-handed failing a drug test. The mere suspicion of steroid use was enough to ruin Bonds's reputation, and similar suspicions will undoubtedly dog Braun for some time, despite yesterday's news.
But some have maintained Braun's innocence from the beginning -- one of them Packers star Aaron Rodgers, who like Braun is a native Californian now excelling as a pro athlete in the Land of 10,000 Cheeses. Following news of Braun's successful appeal, Rodgers offered up the following tweet:
Later, when asked by a follower if he truly believes Braun didn't use steroids, Rodgers said "ya I'd put my salary next year on it." Would Rodgers have the same confidence in Braun's innocence had the pee collector better understood FedEx's hours of operations? Unfortunately, we'll probably never know.
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