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12/11/11 12:05 AM EST

Braun deserves the benefit of the doubt

Reigning NL MVP denies using performance-enhancing drugs

Ryan Braun deserves the benefit of the doubt. There, I said it. That is not a popular position on steroids, is it?

We want to hang 'em high and sort out the facts later. We assume they're all guilty because we've been lied to so many times before. We've heard all the denials, and at some point, they all sound alike.

Around the country, the volume level has been cranked up. Some want him stripped of his National League MVP Award. Some want to declare him guilty without allowing the process to play out.

For his part, Braun is adamant that he'll eventually be proven innocent, and I hope that's true.

It just makes no sense that he would risk his good name when he has been blessed with enough gifts to do great things.

He's also part of a generation of players that has been tested for steroids since the first day they signed professional contracts.

He's a smart guy. He has seen the damage done to players who've tested positive. For him to use a banned substance would be to do more harm than good.

I have trouble believing he did that. I may be proven wrong, but I just can't wrap my mind around it.

He's one of the faces of this sport. Only 28, he has helped resurrect the Brewers and turn them into one of baseball's best franchises, both with two playoff appearances in the last four years and attendance at Miller Park surpassing 3 million in three of the last four years.

He has done things right on the field and off, playing the game with honor and representing the Brewers the way Major League Baseball would want every player to represent his franchise.

Yes, it's possible a player could have made a mistake. It would be terribly irresponsible for him to put something into his body without knowing exactly what it was.

Several years ago, I watched a player enter a clubhouse holding a blue bottle of some kind of commercially sold supplement.

He was immediately stopped by a teammate.

"That stuff," he said, "is on the banned list."

The Brewers are cautioning reporters to take a deep breath and assuring them Braun eventually will be cleared.

They're also saying that the information should not have been made public while the appeal process was under way.

Braun's agent released a statement predicting he'll "ultimately be exonerated."

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted a source familiar with the test as saying Braun requested a second test, which was negative. That source also told the newspaper that the substance was not a performance-enhancing drug.

"The truth will prevail; I really feel good about that," the source told the newspaper. "It just stinks that this got out before the appeal process is finished. Initial positive tests have been overturned before, proving the player is innocent, and nobody ever knows."

Braun will not be happy that so many people rush to judgement, but the roadside is littered with players issuing similar denials only to confess when cornered.

Baseball has had a spectacularly good year with new stars emerging and some of the best September and October baseball ever.

It would be painful on so many levels to see one of the biggest stars forced to serve a 50-game suspension.

Here's hoping it was all a mistake, that Braun is as smart and as careful as many of us think he is. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, not just because he deserves it. I believe him.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.