Braun's 50-game suspension is overturned
Ryan Braun, the reigning Most Valuable Player in the National League and one of baseball’s brightest young stars, has become the sport’s first player to successfully appeal a positive drug test and, as a result, escape a 50-game suspension.
In a 2-1 vote yesterday, the panel that heard Braun’s appeal agreed that valid questions had been raised about the manner in which the test sample was handled.
Braun was tested in October as he and the Milwaukee Brewers were making their first appearance in the postseason in three years and, according to people in baseball with knowledge of the case, the test collector first took the urine sample home and stored it in his refrigerator for two days before delivering it to a FedEx center so that it could be shipped to a laboratory in Montreal.
Although Major League Baseball argued that there was no evidence that the sealed test had been tampered with, the 48-hour delay proved to be the deciding factor in the case. The ruling was a blow to Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig, who has repeatedly said that his sport now has a comprehensive testing system second to none and that it has fully addressed a drug problem that has plagued it for more than a decade.
This was the first time that a major league player has successfully appealed a positive test result. The previous 12 appeals had all been denied, according to one of the people with knowledge of the testing procedures, although until now no player had challenged the manner in which the sample was sent to the laboratory.
Braun’s victory raises fresh questions about whether other positive drug tests might have been the result of tampering or negligence, and it could provide a road map for other players as they seek to challenge positive test results for performance-enhancing drugs.
Braun, 28, who in April signed a $105 million contract extension, hired a prominent sports lawyer and assembled a public relations team to aggressively argue his appeal. Braun is scheduled to report for spring training today, and in a statement issued after the ruling was announced said he was “pleased and relieved.’’
“It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation,’’ he added. “We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side. 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.’’
The three-man panel that heard Braun’s appeal consisted of baseball’s longtime arbitrator, Shyam Das; Michael Weiner, the head of the players’ union, and Rob Manfred, the baseball official who has presided over the sport’s drug-testing program as it has been toughened.
It was Das who cast the deciding vote in Braun’s favor. It was Manfred who angrily weighed in shortly after the ruling, saying that MLB “vehemently’’ disagreed.
The test in question was given to Braun on Oct. 1, after the Brewers’ first game of the 2011 postseason. The tester claimed that by the time the test was completed early in the evening after the game there was no open FedEx center at which he could drop off the sample, the person with knowledge of the case said. Instead, he said the tester followed established protocol that when a sample cannot immediately be dropped off at a FedEx center it must be kept in a cold and secure place until it can be shipped.
The test sample at issue revealed that Braun had unusually high levels of testosterone in his body compared with other positive tests, another issue that Braun’s lawyer cited in raising questions about its validity. The test showed a prohibited substance in Braun’s body but not a steroid, according to the second person familiar with the appeals process.
Braun learned of the result in late October and insisted that the test was flawed. He took a second test done by an independent laboratory that showed he had normal levels of testosterone, the person said.