02/24/12 5:45 PM EST
Braun speaks out, proud of 'integrity'
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
"Major League Baseball runs the highest-quality drug testing program of any professional sports organization in the world. It is a joint program, administered by an independent program administrator selected by the Commissioner's Office and the MLBPA," MLB executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred said in the statement. "With regards to the breach of confidentiality regarding this case, both the Commissioner's Office and the MLBPA have investigated the original leak of Ryan Braun's test, and we are convinced that the leak did not come from the Commissioner's Office."The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun's case acted in a professional and appropriate manner. He handled Mr. Braun's sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs -- including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency. "Our program is not 'fatally flawed.' Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator's decision. Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering." The MLBPA also issued a statement in the afternoon, agreeing that MLB was not responsible for the leaking of the positive test result. "Our Joint Drug Program stands as strong, as accurate and as reliable as any in sport, both before and after the Braun decision," Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said in the statement. "The breach of confidentiality associated with this matter is unfortunate, but after investigation, we are confident that it was not caused by the Commissioner's Office, the MLBPA or anyone associated in any way with the program. In all other respects, the appeals process worked as designed; the matter was vigorously contested and the independent and neutral arbitrator issued a decision deserving of respect by both bargaining parties. "As has happened several times before with other matters, this case has focused the parties' attention on an aspect of our program that can be improved. After discussions with the Commissioner's Office, we are confident that all collections going forward will follow the parties' agreed-upon rules." Breaking a long silence The substance in question was synthetic testosterone, which appeared in a urine sample attributed to Braun in October. He learned of the positive test on Oct. 19, began an appeals hearing on Jan. 19 and learned Thursday that his appeal had been upheld by a three-member special panel, the first such result in the history of baseball's testing program. Aside from his speech in January after accepting the National League MVP Award, these were Braun's first public comments since news broke in December that he faced a suspension. "That wasn't easy," he said. "There were a lot of times I wanted to come out and tell the whole story, attack everybody as I've been attacked, as my name has been dragged through the mud, as everything I've ever worked for my entire life has been called into question. ... I could have never, ever envisioned being in this position today, discussing this subject with you guys." Braun has long a vocal proponent of drug testing in professional sports, but argued that the system did not work in his particular case. Under the rules bargained by league and the MLB Players Association, players face a "strict liability" provision, meaning they are subject to suspension even if they can prove took a prohibited substance inadvertently, as in a nutritional supplement. That, Braun said, is why his side instead made the procedural argument. "We are a part of a process in which you are 100 percent guilty until proven innocent," Braun said. "It's opposite of the American judicial system ... so if we are held to that standard, it's only fair that everybody else is held to that exact same standard. "What what is at stake -- this is my livelihood, this is my integrity, this is my character, this is everything I've worked for in my life being called into question -- we need to make sure that we get it right. If you're going to be in a position where you're 100 percent guilty until proven innocent, [those responsible for the testing] cannot mess up. The system in the way that it was applied to me in this case was fatally flawed." Braun enumerated what he viewed as those flaws. He submitted to a urine test at about 4:30 p.m. CT on Oct 1, after Braun's three-hit game and Yovani Gallardo's sensational pitching performance sent the Brewers to a 4-1 win over the D-backs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Braun was informed of his positive test on Oct. 19 and said he immediately contacted MLBPA officials, who told him his ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone (T/E ratio) was three times higher than any number in the history of MLB's drug testing. "I expressed to them that I had not done anything that could have possibly led to that test result," Braun said. "I told them that I promise you on everything that's ever meant anything to me in my life -- the morals, the values, the virtues by which I've lived for my 28 years on this planet -- I did not do this." Braun opened his medical records. He said club records of weekly weigh-ins show he "literally didn't gain a single pound" during the season, that the results of regular strength tests did not change that that timings of his baserunning did not show any improvement. At the same time, CAA Sports, which represents Braun, hired Atlanta attorney David Cornwell to work on Braun's case and began an examination of the testing process itself and the individuals associated with Braun's sample. That examination, Braun said, raised more questions. Braun quoted the language of the JDA, which requires that samples shall be taken immediately to FedEx for shipping on the day they are collected, absent unusual circumstances. "The reason this is important is that because after we provide our samples, typically the only two people in the world who know whose sample it is are us, the donor and the collector who receives our urine samples," Braun said. "In my case, there was an additional third person, the son of the collector, who just happened to be my chaperone on the day I was tested." Braun said two other teammates provided samples on the same day, and the collector left Miller Park at about 5 p.m. CT. But according to multiple reports, he did not leave the samples with FedEx, because it was too late for them to be shipped that night. Instead, the collector took the samples to his home, which reports say is not unprecedented in drug testing. But Braun called into question that decision and questioned why the collector did not return to FedEx until Monday afternoon, 44 hours after Braun submitted his sample. Braun's side argued that the samples should have been left with FedEx that Saturday night, beginning a documented chain of custody. "It would have been stored in a temperature-controlled environment, and FedEx is used to handling clinical packaging," Braun said. "Most importantly, you would have become a number and no longer a name. ... "Why he didn't bring it in, I don't know. On the day that he did finally bring it in, FedEx opened at 7:30 [a.m.] -- why didn't he bring it in until 1:30 [p.m.]? I can't answer that question. Why was there zero documentation? What could have possibly happened to it during that 44-hour period? There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked," Braun said, "that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened." Braun contrasted that 44-hour period with protocol after at the World Anti-Doping Agency-certified lab in Montreal, where samples, he said, are treated "literally like a nuclear weapon." "We spoke to biochemists and chemists, and we asked them, 'How difficult would it be to tamper with somebody's sample?'" Braun said. "Their response was that if they were motivated, it would be extremely easy. Again, that's why it was so important to get it out of the hands of the only person in the world who knows whose sample it is." Braun shot down what he called erroneous reports that dotted the winter, including one especially persistent rumor that his positive test was caused by treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. Braun said he has never had an STD. He specifically criticized ESPN, which broke the original story on Dec. 10 that Braun faced a suspension. "We won because the truth is on my side," Braun said. Back in camp Braun arrived at Maryvale Baseball Park just after 9:30 a.m. MT on Friday, his first appearance in camp, and addressed teammates in a players-only meeting. Many of them, including longtime friend Corey Hart, gathered at the back of assembled media in a show of support. Also on hand was Braun's father, Joe, who hugged his son and fought back tears. "I'm proud of my son," Joe Braun said. "We've always known who he is as a person, his 100-percent innocence and class and dignity. It showed today. Joe Braun said his son was indeed angry, "and I don't blame him. I wouldn't want any human being on Earth to go through this." Braun will be on the field Saturday for the Brewers' first full-squad workout. It will mark the official start of the team's defense of the NL Central crown, and Braun's defense of his MVP Award. He called the arbitration ruling just the first step in restoring his reputation. "One of my biggest regrets about having gone through this whole situation is that I can't ever get that time in my life back," Braun said. "It should have been an amazing time in my life. My team had an incredible season last year, finished two wins short of the World Series, I had a great year individually -- I should have been able to enjoy the offseason, and I didn't."