Why Ryan Braun Is the Most Contemptible Drug Cheat of Them All

The stadium scene.
July 22 2013 9:30 PM

Ryan Braun's Dirty Deed

Yes, he's a drug cheat. But there's another reason he deserves our contempt.

Ryan Braun
Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers watches his team play against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on June 10, 2013.

Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

It’s not surprising that Ryan Braun has been suspended for the rest of the 2013 season for his connection to the Biogenesis drug dispensary. What’s a little more jarring is that Braun has admitted his culpability and will not appeal—even if whoever’s job it is to write apologies for these guys sort of mailed it in on this one.

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

Here’s Braun’s statement in full:

“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed—all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”

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Given what he’s done, Braun is getting off easy if he drops a few vague hints about bad behavior and slides right back in to the game he loves next spring training. No matter what you think about PEDs in sports, and whether it matters who’s injecting who with what, we should all agree on two things: Ryan Braun deserves no one’s sympathy, and taking performance-enhancing drugs is the least of his crimes.

Why is Braun such a villain? Because after getting a reprieve last year that it’s now pretty obvious he didn’t deserve, he had the gall to smear the lowest man on the baseball org chart to make himself look a teeny-tiny bit better. In February 2012, after he successfully appealed a 50-game drug suspension, the 2011 MVP smarmed his way through a victory press conference, whining that he’d been wrongfully accused and that the whole process had been so very hard on him. He also attacked the integrity of Dino Laurenzi Jr., the man who’d collected his urine sample. "There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened," he said, citing nothing at all to support his claims. “We spoke to biochemists and scientists, and asked them how difficult it would be for someone to taint the sample. They said, if they were motivated, it would be extremely easy.” At the same time, Braun praised his own moral rectitude, saying, “I will continue to take the high road. We won because the truth was on my side.”

Braun got off in 2012 because an arbitrator ruled, incorrectly in my view, that Major League Baseball hadn’t followed protocol in dealing with his urine sample. This supposed problem with the chain of custody allowed Braun to diverge from the usual litany of drug cheat excuses—blaming the result on “someone I trusted,” or a tainted supplement, or a spiked drink. But Braun seems to have misunderstood the reason why an athlete offers up an excuse, however lame it may be. If you test positive and get suspended, then it’s standard procedure to explain away your absence from the field by passing the blame to someone else. If you test positive and don’t get suspended, then you should accept your good fortune and keep your mouth shut. Instead, Braun decided to run up the scoreboard on his ill-gotten victory, even threatening to pursue litigation against those who'd wronged him.

As Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg has been arguing, to his credit, since immediately after Braun’s self-pitying post-appeal victory lap, the ballplayer owes the collector an explanation. It was cowardly of Braun to insinuate vaguely that Laurenzi Jr. did something untoward while presenting no evidence to back up that accusation. Laurenzi Jr.’s only mistake—and I hesitate even to call this a mistake—was to hold on to Braun’s specimen box over the weekend because he didn’t believe there was a FedEx store that would ship it right away. He was doing what he thought was right, and it’s now fair to say that Braun—though he characteristically hasn’t admitted to anything specific—was totally in the wrong.

It’s hard to fathom a larger chasm in the world of sports than the one separating athletes from the people who collect and label their excreta. As such, Laurenzi Jr.’s defense of his work got a lot less attention than Braun’s unprovoked, nationally broadcast attack. “This situation has caused great emotional distress for me and my family,” the maligned urine collector said in a statement last year. “I have worked hard my entire life, have performed my job duties with integrity and professionalism and have done so with respect to this matter and all other collections in which I have participated."

Now, Braun wants us to believe that he knows exactly how Laurenzi Jr. is feeling. “This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family,” the five-time All-Star said in his own statement today, echoing the man he was all too eager to badmouth. But if it wasn’t clear enough already, today’s toothless admission establishes that Braun doesn’t have the capacity for empathy. One of the best players in the game has been lying about his PED use, which is unsurprising and kind of understandable if not exactly moral. The pointless, cruel kneecapping of the man who held his urine, though, is what puts Braun in a special class of contemptibility.

Update, July 23, 11:20 a.m.: If you had any doubts about Ryan Braun’s character, or whether he really meant to malign sample collector Dino Laurenzi Jr., Jeff Passan’s column should erase them. The Yahoo baseball writer explains that a member of Braun’s entourage—writing under a pseudonym—sent a note to him and other reporters just prior to his smear-tastic February 2012 press conference. That email noted that Laurenzi Jr. worked at a hospital, which means he “would have unfettered access to lab equipment and, if he was so inclined, would provide him the necessary resources and opportunity to tamper with the test.” That note tells you everything you need to know about Braun: He’s shameless, he’s opportunistic, and he’ll do whatever it takes to save his own skin.

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