Last Thursday, baseball All-Star Ryan Braun won his appeal of a positive drug test, but the truth remains clouded, trust has been broken, and he’s left with a tarnished image that may never be repaired.
If you’re not familiar with the story, Braun, the reigning National League MVP of the Milwaukee Brewers, tested positive last October for elevated levels of testosterone and was facing a 50-game suspension as a result. Braun had already filed an appeal when news of the failed drug test was leaked in December (results of failed drug tests are supposed to remain confidential until a player exhausts the appeals process, to avoid this very situation of unjustly tarnishing a person’s reputation). Last week an arbitrator ruled that Major League Baseball didn’t follow the strict specimen collection and handling procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement with the players union and Braun’s suspension was overturned.
In a press conference on Friday, Braun detailed how the specimen he provided on October 1 wasn’t delivered to a FedEx shipping facility until October 3. The specimen collector kept possession of the urine sample over the weekend under the belief the local FedEx offices were closed. MLB countered that the FedEx packaged arrived at the laboratory sealed three times with tamper-proof seals – one on the box, one on a plastic bag inside the box, and again on the vial that contained the urine sample. Braun and his supporters say that he is vindicated because MLB didn’t follow the rules, while skeptics counter that Braun got off on a procedural technicality.
This story highlights the fragile nature of trust. Even though the 28 year-old Braun has had a sterling reputation during his 5 year major league career – passing all previous drug tests, never involved in trouble off the field, a positive role model in the community, and by all accounts a stand-up, trustworthy person of good character – one accusation has cast doubt on his trustworthiness. As a leader I’m reminded that my actions are under a microscope and it only takes one instance of un-trustworthy behavior, or even behavior that has the potential to create the perception of un-trustworthiness, to cast doubt on my character.
In his press conference Braun said “We won because the truth is on my side.” “I tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always lived my life,” he said. “If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and I say I did it. By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life, I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that the substance never entered my body at any point.”
Is he telling the truth about never using performance enhancing drugs? We may never know the full story but one thing is certain. Braun’s trustworthiness has taken a hit and it’s going to require more than stellar play on the field to rebuild it.