Ryan Braun and The Great Steroid Freakout, Part XXVII

This story originally appeared at The Daily Beast on Sunday, July 28, 2013. Read it there.

There’s nothing like explosive, hypermoralistic sportswriter outrage at doping and juicing to engender sympathy for millionaire athletes. Sure, sportswriters are not usually the brainiest boys in the bullpen, and there’s an air of perpetual prepubescence to the insights, analysis, and interests they pursue. But it shouldn’t be so hard for them to realize that using performance-enhancing drugs doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you human.

When Major League Baseball announced its 65-game, season-ending suspension of Milwaukee Brewers superstar Ryan Braun for using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), jock sniffers around the country evinced the sort of unbridled enthusiasm rarely seen outside of old Phil Rizzuto commercials for the Money Store. Braun will lose at least $3.5 million in pay this year, and his future with the Brewers and baseball remains unclear.

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy passed immediate judgment,pronouncing that “in the pantheon of sports dirtbags, Ryan Braun goes down as one of the worst. He forever will be a baseball pariah.” “Who is Ryan Braun? He’s a cheater and a liar,” testified CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel. “Braun is one of the most cravenly selfish figures in American professional sports,”seethed Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi.

From all this, you’d gather that Braun had committed an actual crime that really hurt somebody. Murder, maybe, or rape, or failing to support his children—all things which athletes are known to do. But the worst thing he did—and it is pretty bad, for sure—was attack the integrity of a urine-specimen collector back in 2011.

Taking drugs in defiance of arbitrary rules and constantly shifting enforcement regimes doesn’t make Braun a role model for anybody outside Celebrity Rehab, but it also doesn’t make him a hall-of-fame-level dirtbag, either. He is what he is: a typical top-tier athlete willing to do just about anything to excel at his chosen sport. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks, and that’s what fans want to see.

You don’t have to look hard to find real villains in baseball, including literal Hall of Famers such as Cap Anson (widely credited with segregating the national pastime in the 19th century) and Ty Cobb (who once beat up a crippled heckler in the stands). Braun isn’t accused to throwing games or even half-assing it on the field; no, his crime is that he wanted to be better than everyone around him. Where’s the harm in that, exactly?

As Lance Armstrong is happy to remind us lately, PEDs have been part and parcel of pro sports since at least the first Tour de France in 1903, when ridershuffed ether and chugged booze in hopes of gaining an edge. In contemporary baseball—and football, basketball, soccer, track, and all the rest—athletes use whatever substances and training regimens they think might give them an edge. They will always be a step ahead of regulators, and they will always “cheat,” because they have every incentive to improve their performance.

Most press reports say that Braun’s suspension is only the beginning of a new round of purges. USA Today reports that about 20 others, including superstars like the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, might face similar charges and penalties. After the moral panic passes, the dust will settle down for a while (like it did after the last time and the time before that) until a new scandal erupts.

It would be much better for all involved if we could get past the preadolescent anti-’roid rage that’s spewed over the sports pages like a rancid Dodger dog. As the sportswriting legend Robert Lipsyte noted in an interview earlier this year, PEDs are not magical potions that transform no-talent shlubs into the next Babe Ruth. They are complicated technologies whose effects can’t be openly investigated and measured with any reliability.

Why not have an actual public conversation about how and why PEDs are used? Baseball players, who show a remarkable willingness to sacrifice their bodies in pursuit of beaucoup bucks and a few lines on a plaque in Cooperstown, and team owners, who rightly see players as investments worth protecting, might come up with a drug policy that actually has a chance of working without forcing grown men to pee into cups or lie to a disbelieving public.

Openly allowing PEDs might not sit well with sportswriters, who have to blow smoke on a semiregular basis like old Chief Noc-a-Homa used to do at Atlanta Braves games. But I suspect that poor, suffering fans who genuinely seem not to give a fungo bat about how athletes manage their incredible feats would be fine with it all.

We came out in droves during the great home-run derbies of the 1990s’ steroid era, and we will again, especially if we can be sure that Congress (!) will never again hold investigations into whether Roger Clemens recalled “bleeding through [his] pants in 2001.” Unless you’re a Cubs or Marlins fan, there’s usually enough drama on the field to hold your attention anyway.

This story originally appeared at The Daily Beast on Sunday, July 28, 2013. Read it there.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If last year's The Avengers taught me anything, it's that I really want to watch Thor pitching against The Hulk. Until then, let's encourage honoring our agreements.

  • Generic Stranger||

    Would Thor substitute Mjolnir for the baseball? And what would The Hulk use as a bat?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    But if it weren't for our stupid taboos against using chemicals to enhance biological processes, then how could we justify our antisemitism?

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Openly allowing PEDs might not sit well with sportswriters,...But I suspect that poor, suffering fans who genuinely seem not to give a fungo bat about how athletes manage their incredible feats would be fine with it all."

    Sportswriters may not be MLB's primary concern. Assuming PEDs have significant side effects, MLB may be inoculating itself against future player lawsuits, like the ones against the NFL for head injuries. Also, it seems that most of the other players are not particularly thrilled with Braun and the other juicers so the player's union is not fighting MLB on this issue. For the most part, the conversation Gillespie says he wants is ongoing, and the side he is advocating is losing badly.

  • RBS||

    Assuming PEDs have significant side effects

    That's assuming a lot and something I would expect from people who have no experience with them. Sure, there are side effects but they can be managed and the more advanced these drugs get the safer (generally) they are. Not mention that taking PED use out the underground would help with that too.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Maybe, but in the current legal climate sports leagues are operating in, can MLB afford to take that chance? Making PED use aboveground will also make MLB be encouraging their use.

  • Invisible Finger||

    MLB has a laundry list of approved PEDs.

    http://www.nsf.org/Certified/B.....stings.asp

    Basically just a list of stuff that allegedly won't show up bad on a piss test. But it's really just a supplier shakedown, not unlike bat manufacturer approval.

  • PH2050||

    Many PEDs shouldn't be illegal.

    I was no doctor but I was medical so I made sure my Marines were utilizing proper dosages and sterile technique.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    The legendary Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi once said something to the effect that you're an idiot if you think "we don't juice."

    The thing that bothers me is the reactionary sports press. Being a junkie and all, my perception is they're good at offering opinions but in terms of hard investigative journalism there's much to be desired. Maybe I'm wrong but I feel with all the access they have, rather than talk about their golf meetings with celeb athletes, one would think ONE of them would have broken the story. Instead they all look at each other with stupid 'who knew?' faces. The rest is predictable holier than thou crap from the 'gatekeepers.'

    It's a good think bloggers exist despite what the mainstream thinks.

  • Mickey Rat||

    These are people who think harassing the subjects of their stories while they shower and dress is essential to their profession. They are rather lazy and entitled.

  • RBS||

    Speaking of showers. I watched some of that Four Letter special about breaking the sports journalism gender barrier. All I could think was why should females be allowed in the male locker room? My female boss doesn't come check up on me in the can at work, girls don't hang out in boys bathrooms at school etc.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    My wife says the same thing each time she sees that. But hey, you're a misogynist for saying or thinking it. Can a man go in a women's locker room? Just asking.

  • Mickey Rat||

    According to the promo, you and your wife have closed minds.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Yeah, that's documentary was what I was thinking of when I wrote comment above. It did not seem to occur to anyone that reporters don't belong in the locker rooms, period.

  • RBS||

    Especially these days when even the 2nd string long snapper has a press conference.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Most people like to get on their moral high horses when given the opportunity. Or when they're not. Plus writing about 20-something jocks, many of whom have been socialized into jackasses, can make you all too happy to witness (or to contribute to) their falls.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Always wondered how a mature male journalist of 50 or so deals with the 20 year-old jerks. I know if some punk athlete blew me off I wouldn't like it.

  • RBS||

    I don't disagree.

  • RBS||

    Hmmm, that was supposed to be somewhere else.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    'thing.'

  • AlmightyJB||

    deja vue?

  • Mickey Rat||

    "But the worst thing he did—and it is pretty bad, for sure—was attack the integrity of a urine-specimen collector back in 2011."

    He got caught and slandered the collector and lab's procedures to get out of it. Yeah, that's not murder, but if you have to compare what a person did to the capital crime to make it look innocuous, your argument fails.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    “Who is Ryan Braun? He’s a cheater and a liar,” testified CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel.

    [...]

    From all this, you’d gather that Braun had committed an actual crime that really hurt somebody.

    Umm, yes Nick. He committed fraud and fucked over his benefactors. It may seem quaint, but there are some people out there who value keeping one's word.

    Regardless of whether or not PEDs should be part of baseball, I don't feel the slightest bit of sympathy for someone who gets rightfully canned for a serious breach of ethics. Braun was paid millions of dollars to play a game -- the least he can do is honor the terms of his contract.

  • PH2050||

    I agree with you. PEDs being illegal in or outside of pro sports is beside the point. He has a contract and there is a list of banned substances he agreed to by signing said contract.

  • Drake||

    It was a breech of a contract, not just ethics.

  • Sidd Finch||

    Sidd Finch fully endorses the excellent comments of Mickey Rat and The Immaculate Trouser.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Aside, is there a limit on recycling the same article more than 3 times in the space of a week? I get that there are interesting issues here, but fuck, enough already.

    Now: Contract signed by both parties says no PEDs. Breach of contract seems pretty straightforward.

  • ||

    Why is Nick so determined to defend a liar and a cheat? It's not like Braun owned up to it but defended his PED usage as something that should be embraced. No, he lied again and again to the fans and his employer. He deserves no sympathy.

  • CE||

    Maybe he's from Wisconsin?

  • Mickey Rat||

    My speculation is: Gillespie thinks that not condemning drug bans by even private entities and that drug use be considered in any way unethical is a betrayal of the anti-drug war stance. So he'll defend a stinker of a case like Braun's out of sheer bloodymindedness.

  • Acosmist||

    Which means that if I laugh at people doing dumb things while on drugs, I'm somehow anti-drug.

    Good luck with that tiny little tent of libertarianism that meets your purity laws, Nick.

  • Boomer||

    I get Gillespie's problem with restrictions on PEDs; they mostly reflect politicians' idiotic biases and opportunistic "do something--ANYTHING--to protect the chillens" bullshit. What I don't get is Gillespie's making light of Braun's willingness to throw some pour schmo under the bus then crow publicly about it, all the while knowing he has broken the terms of a contract he willingly signed.

    Gillespie needs to find a different anti anti-PED poster child...

  • CE||

    A sports league has every right to enforce whatever rules it deems necessary. Bans on performance enhancing drugs protect players who would prefer not to have to use them from competing with those who do.

    That being said, the DH rule is un-American, the salary cap is communist, and the draft is statist. Let the owners that really want to win go for it, without rewarding mediocrity. Stop ripping off talented players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant by capping what they can earn. Stop preventing the best college players from playing for the team that bids the highest for their services, instead of the giving them only the option to join the worst managed team.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Let the owners that really want to win go for it

    Right after they get their well-manicured hands out of our pockets, plz.

  • PH2050||

    LOL, nice one.

    They can do whatever they want when they pay for their own fucking stadiums/arenas. Until then, they will have to accept politicians' bullshit interference.

    That money comes with strings, make no mistake.

  • Mickey Rat||

    I don't think many stadiums are paid for with federal dollars, so no federal strings.

  • Stilgar||

    This.

    Some (most?) players would prefer not to have to ingest drugs which have at best a poorly known long term affect on their health and at least some examples of bad outcomes. And once everyone in the league is taking them, then what? Is the new competition a race to see how much more you can shoot up than the other guy?

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    I get what Nick is saying but honestly, the bottom line is Braun and others like him are cheats. I don't think athletes sit around shrugging their shoulders about stuff like this. I'm pretty sure they don't like it.

  • Acosmist||

    MLB to Gillespie - fuck off, slaver.

    A business venture sets rules to please its customers. GG. Your supposed finding of a libertarian dog in this fight is fascist. Get the hell out.

  • box_man||

    Nick continues to ignore one critical fact in the PED debate. Real commercial harm is happening by someone who violates a contract with a sports league. No libertarian should defend that.

    I can't find the article, but there was a good discussion by a US olympic athlete who claimed and tested clean. He got silver in his event losing to someone from another country who it turned out tested positive and admitted to using PEDs. The problem was it wasn't determined until several months after the olympics and the gold medal was awarded to him but it was too late. Because he was in a less popular sport, the gold medal would have gotten him sponsorships and appearance fees that would have allowed him to continue his sport, but because he had silver, he had to give up competing because he didn't get those opportunities. That is real economic harm because what should have been rightfully his was taken from him through fraudulent dealings by another athlete. Again, no libertarian should defend that. It is a big deal when somebody cheats with PEDs under current contracts.

    "It's no big deal" is a horrible analysis of the situation.

  • Invisible Finger||

    We're supposed to pretend this "contract" clause was put in without shitloads of pressure from Congress in exchange for looking the other way on all of MLB's other shakedowns?

    It's a pure "Say no to drugs" ploy by government and nothing more. Calling that a legit contract clause is complete horseshit.

  • Careless||

    Baseball's ban on steroids is over 20 years old, going well before Congress started paying attention to it.

  • RBS||

    Who was this man, because an American hasn't won a weightlifting silver at the Olympics since the 70's.

  • The Last American Hero||

    He was a surfer cop from Washington. Try to keep up.

  • ||

    Could be Mario Martinez. And if you don't think he was eating dbol like it was candy, I have a something in my pants for you.

  • RBS||

    Damn, skipped over him when I glanced at the medals. Anyway, maybe there should be tested/non-tested pro sports. Then we can all know who the honest ones are...

  • ||

    That exists in powerlifting and bodybuilding. Guess how many people care about the drug-free federations? (Not that many people care about the drug federations, either.)

  • ||

    Also, the guy who beat him didn't get popped for drugs. Whatever this guy thinks he's talking about, he doesn't.

  • Gladstone||

    Why not an article defending Pete Rose or the Black Sox?

  • ||

    A steroid timeline

    1963 Roy Alvin serves breakfast with Dianabol to San Diego Chargers line men.

    Mmmmmmmm, eggs and dbol.

  • ERW||

    Nick, this is pretty weak gruel, and very disappointing. You use a lot of emotional words to almost defend the likes of Braun. Yes, he's a cheat and liar, and no he didn't break any laws. Do you think your readers are grade schoolers? The issue isn't sports writers, who are in the same class with most journalists--dimwits, but that's irrelevant.

    Generally, I'm a great fan of Nick's, and I would have never guessed that he wrote this. Again, very disappointing. The logic is...well, there is no logic, just a lot of screaming and straw men (sports writers). Ish!

  • ||

    One more thought:

    Former player and NFL coach Jim Haslett said in 2005 that during the 1980s, half of the players in the league used some type of performance enhancing drug or steroid and all of the defensive lineman used them.

    Compare the physiques of the notorious drug pigs in the NFL from back then to the physiques of the players now. Draw your own conclusions.

  • Jake345||

    nick=intellectual dilettante

  • Drake||

    This series of articles is tiresome. The "we should have a debate" thing is silly since the writers here seem pretty disinterested in the sport itself.

    Steroids use by pitchers and hitters change the nature of the game. I would prefer that homeruns are relatively rare and a big deal. I would rather see a pitcher trying to get people out by throwing a variety of pitches, not just 100 mph fastballs. I would prefer hit and runs to waiting for yet another home run.

    I would rather watch normal people than the Hulk play.

  • ||

    Water and oxygen are both performance enhancing substances. Yet we don't see athletes getting kicked out of their sports for chugging a bottled water mid-game. Why not? Why is one enhancing substance okay, while another is not?

  • UneasyRider||

    It's up to the league to decide. If they want to make water a banned substance, it is well within their rights to do so. The earlier commenter who called this a breach of contract case is exactly right. Braun agreed to play by the rules of the league in exchange for a shit load of money. He chose to violate this contract.

  • UneasyRider||

    I think the reason such vitriol is being hurled at Braun is because of his allegations against the lab tech the last time he was caught. Braun tested positive a couple of years ago with an absurdly high testosterone level. He got off on a technicality and basically said that his sample was tainted by the lab tech who handled it. It's one thing to be caught cheating, but it is another thing entirely to blame some peon for something you know you did.

  • staceyshea40||

    my friend's sister-in-law makes $70/hour on the laptop. She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her check was $14048 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site.. Rush60.com

  • DeloresJGilliam||

    my buddy's step-sister makes $72 an hour on the computer. She has been laid off for 8 months but last month her payment was $12918 just working on the computer for a few hours. Here's the site to read more,,,,
    http://Rush60.com

  • Creeper||

    once again ty cobb gets a passing mention as a bad guy for beating a crippled heckler...short version: the heckler had been calling cobb's mother and sister "whores" for innings.
    cobb went and notified the commissioner in the stands what was going on.
    around the 5th inning or so, the man started to call cobb a "half a n*gger".

    when cobb went back to the dugout his own teamates(who weren't big fans of cobb) asked him if he was going to let that man get away with that kind of slur.

    cobb jumped into the stands and we all know the rest of the story.

    what isn't often told is that his own teammates(who weren't big fans of his)stood beside him and had the first major league stike because of cobb's suspension(because of the nature of the slur) and, politicians in cobb's own state interrupted a state assembly to comment on how no white man should have to put up with such an insult.
    so let's not make cobb out to be such a villain here. it was a product of the times......

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