As I mentioned in this space a month ago, I very much enjoy talking about the intersection of drugs and baseball. The ways that fans, members of the media, and players discuss the issue are valuable ways of seeing how people contextualize the importance of drug use in our society. Moreover, the general public seems far more passionate and opinionated about sports stars than about state and federal politics, where the War on Drugs is actually waged. For this reason, I’m tempted, like Patrick Rishe of Forbes, to mash baseball into all manner of drug-related conversations, such as that of Whitney Houston’s death. Thankfully, it hasn’t come to that, as baseball itself has delivered unto us the week’s biggest drugs-related story.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the Ryan Braun case, here is a brief summary: Braun, a star outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, had been found to have extreme levels of artificial testosterone in his body during a course of regular Major League Baseball-mandated drug testing. This led to an automatic fifty game suspension, which is the standard punishment for positive drug tests under the Major League Baseball Players Association’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Unfortunately for Braun, an unknown party leaked his positive test to the media – despite the CBA’s assurance of drug-testing confidentiality – prior to the resolution of Braun’s appeal to an independent arbiter. Braun successfully appealed his suspension, becoming the first player to win a Performance Enhancing Drug-related appeal in the league’s history, though this hardly saved his public reputation. Braun’s lawyers won their appeal not by arguing that Braun was “clean,” but that his urine sample had been improperly handled between its collection in Milwaukee and its arrival in a Montreal testing facility. This has resulted in a heated controversy about Braun’s innocence, as many fans and members of the media have derided both Braun, who they see as clearly guilty, and MLB’s drug testing system, which they see as allowing a supposed cheater to get off on a technicality.
Braun’s case has reflected, in some telling ways, some of the more popular and reactionary sentiments surrounding America’s larger War On Drugs: Are punishments for drug users too light? Are drug users too protected by legal loopholes and activist judges? What does it say to children when drug users aren’t punished severely? In response to such sentiments, much of the most compelling writing on L’Affair Braun has taken a more liberal approach, showing ambivalence toward drug use in general and a questioning of the larger ethos that created the mass hysteria surrounding Braun’s appeal.