Of all the distinguished alumni who have graced University of Miami baseball teams, Ryan Braun was the player chosen to open the season as guest speaker at Friday’s First Pitch Banquet.
Braun is a curious choice given his past as a steroid cheat. Braun is a regrettable choice, too — unless he uses the return to his alma mater to deliver a meaningful message about what he did and why he did it. Perhaps Braun will present himself as a cautionary tale, or share revelations about how athletes wrestle with the demands of morality versus competition.
It would be a generous and wise decision on his part not to treat his transgressions as crumbs swept under the rug.
The most effective way to reduce the drug scourge infecting all sports is not to make testing more sophisticated or add muscle to punishment. Cheaters will always stoop lower so they can jump higher.
Observe how Russia got away with a state-sponsored system of doping for years, even at the Olympics and world championships, right under the noses of the most fastidious anti-doping authorities. Athletes were served cocktails of steroids mixed with masking liquor. They were given false identities to hide from testers. They used the old bag-of-clean-urine-inserted-into-private-parts ruse. They cut holes in the wall of the Sochi Olympic lab and switched out samples. They employed security agents to sabotage tamper-proof bottles.
At this very moment in underground labs around the world, new methods of gene-doping and blood-doping are being developed for athletes willing to break rules for that extra edge.
But one powerful antidote is readily available: Athletes who decide to come clean. Is Braun ready?
Ex-dopers can persuade the next generation to resist temptation. They can help restore the faith of fans by removing the suspicion and cynicism that curdle the joy of a great performance. They can shine a light on ethical athletes, such as U.S. 800-meter runner Alysia Montano, who was denied her moment on the 2012 Olympic podium by Russian dopers. “Has my whole professional career been a farce?” Montano asked after she tripped and fell in her Olympic Trials final, which prevented her from racing at the Rio Games — from which the Russian team was banned. Montano’s sad fate belies the excuse that dopers like Braun only harm themselves.
Braun’s case was particularly messy and ugly. It dragged on for 19 months, until the Milwaukee Brewers slugger accepted a 65-game suspension that ended his 2013 season.
Braun, a six-time All-Star, tested positive for a high level of synthetic testosterone during the playoffs of his 2011 National League MVP season. Braun overturned his initial 50-game suspension on appeal on a chain-of-custody technicality because the tester kept Braun’s sample in his basement over the weekend before mailing it to the lab on a Monday.
Braun was so desperate to clear his name that he smeared the reputation of tester Dino Laurenzi. He accused Laurenzi of being an anti-Semite who tampered with his sample.
The lies grew more elaborate. Braun professed his innocence to teammates and peers in Major League Baseball. When his name was found in the records of Biogenesis clinic operator Anthony Bosch, Braun said Bosch — a fake doctor and anti-aging quack — was his “consultant” during the appeal process. Just a coincidence that Bosch was selling performance-enhancing drugs, from an office across the street from the University of Miami? Just a coincidence that others on Bosch’s client list had UM connections?
As the MLB investigation closed in on Biogenesis customers, including Alex Rodriguez, Braun agreed to the 2013 suspension, which cost him $3 million in salary.
“I am not perfect,” Braun said at the time. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”
Braun, 33, starred for UM 12 years ago. He remains close to UM baseball coach Jim Morris, who does not like dredging up talk of the Biogenesis scandal but who has stood by Braun.
“He’s like a son, and you forgive your son,” Morris said Thursday. “All of us have messed up. But I’m proud of him, and he’s been good for our program. We talk about baseball, about his two kids. That other stuff — so many people have been involved in that other stuff and so many didn’t get caught. He served his punishment and apologized.”
Morris sees the silver lining in the steroid cloud that has hung darkest over baseball. He sees forgiveness and enlightenment as the cure for the drug epidemic. His perspective has merit.
Most of the players who made a calculated decision to cheat deserve to be shut out of baseball’s Hall of Fame forever. And UM should reconsider why it has kept Rodriguez’s name on its stadium.
But inviting Braun back to campus could actually replace hypocrisy with honesty. He could turn out to be a wonderful choice. If he comes clean.