Unless you were living under a rock this weekend, you heard about National League MVP Ryan Braun testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. The GB crew has done a great job covering it so far. Since the moment the news broke, however, there has been tremendous confusion. We don’t know exactly what Braun tested positive for, we aren’t entirely clear what tests were conducted, and there have been conflicting statements from league sources and Braun sources. It’s simply impossible to tell what’s going on, let alone whether Ryan Braun is guilty of doping. We may never even know what we don’t know, if that makes any sense, given MLB’s confidentiality policies and secrecy.
History is littered with mysteries that have gone unsolved, and often these cases fascinate us for decades, or even centuries after they happen. The true-crime genre is filled with falsely accused suspects, escaped killers, and botched investigations. And it’s looking more and more like we’re headed down that road, straight into a huge mess. But like any great unsolved crime, we’re left with more questions than answers. Appropriately, then, all our metaphors are in flux. But let’s look at some of the more interesting possibilities anyway:
Ryan Braun is The Black Dahlia
When Elizabeth Short was discovered in Los Angeles in 1947, her case became perhaps the most sensational murder in American history, up until the Nicole Brown Simpson and Fred Goldberg murders. Short was found in two halves in a vacant lot, naked, drained of blood and horribly mutilated around her face. She had been a waitress and aspiring actress. Immediately, there was a problem. Due to the sensational nature of the injuries, and the fact that Short was an attractive young woman with a great nickname, reporters swarmed the case. Police, unprepared for the onslaught, did not adequately secure the crime scene and newspaper reporters and photographers trampled all over prospective evidence.
Subsequently, media reports sensationalized the case further, slandering Short’s character and turning her into a vampy sexpot in the public’s imagination, to the point where papers were essentially arguing she had asked for it. The media also falsely claimed that Short was pregnant at the time she was killed, and botched important information about her past in the name of good copy. The media spotlight also confounded police by attracting “tips,” confessions, and accusations from an even larger assortment of weirdos, kooks, and crazies.
This is, in part, what’s happening with Ryan Braun right now. ESPN initially claimed that Braun “has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.” Meanwhile, a source close to Braun claims, according to Tom Hardricourt, “the ‘prohibited substance’ was not a performance-enhancing drug or steroid of any kind. And the source says there has ‘never’ been a result like this in the history of the MLB testing program.” Indeed, according to Teri Thompson of the New York Daily News, Braun’s testosterone level was “’insanely high, the highest ever for anyone who has ever taken a test, twice the level of the highest test ever taken…. The never-before-seen ratio…is one of several ‘highly unusual circumstances’ Braun’s camp has referred to.” Thompson also claims that “there are also chain-of-custody issues involving the test.” Meanwhile, while Braun plans to appeal the result, we’ve been assured that he’s got very little shot, given that MLB is 13-0 in the arbitration appeal. But then (h/t to Jack Moore of Disciples of Uecker), we hear from Jimmy Rollins that, while that’s “’technically’ correct. I know of a case that no one will hear about.” Rollins is corroborated by Kevin Goldstein, who tweeted, “People in front office I trust have told me that cases that never got leaked were turned over.”
If Ryan Braun is innocent, he is Richard Jewell
Despite all of the contradictions, and all that we do not know, the case is already being decided through the headlines, such that Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Senator John McCain have already taken time from their busy schedules to pronounce Braun’s guilt to their Twitter audiences. While these accusations may not ultimately decide what happens to Ryan Braun in terms of his punishment or exoneration by MLB (although they could exert pressure on MLB to stand by their test results when they normally wouldn’t), they do affect how Braun will be regarded in the public eye going forward, and that change may not accurately reflect who he is or what he did or did not do.
In 1996, Richard Jewell was a security guard at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. At Centennial Park, he found a green backpack that looked suspicious, and began trying to evacuate the park. A few minutes later, the bag exploded, killing a woman and injuring scores of others. A few days later, a lead at the FBI revealed to The Atlanta Journal Constitution (ironically, Schultz’s newspaper) that they were focusing on Jewell as a “lone bomber.” The AJC reported that Jewell was an erratic individual who “fit the profile” the FBI was looking at. From there, CNN, NBC, the New York Post and other news outlets picked up the narrative and ran with it. Jewell became the fodder for ridicule on late night comedy and in the tabloids.
Soon after, the FBI stopped focusing on Jewell and apologized, and another man, a right-wing survivalist and terrorist named Eric Rudolph, pled guilty to the attack in 2005. Jewell sued CNN, NBC, the NY Post, his former employer at Piedmont College, and the AJC for libel. He settled all of the cases except with the AJC, who continued to fight until Jewell died of natural causes in 2006 and the case was dismissed. Jewell remains an important example to remind us to wait until the facts are readily apparent and fully sorted out before we rush to condemnation and start to lobby for new MVP candidates.
All of this is not to say that Braun is innocent. He may very well be guilty of using performance enhancers. But he’s hardly the first MVP winner to do so. Just because this allegation is coming so closely on the heels of his winning is no reason to panic, or to go after him with torches and pitchforks.