The Fragility of Trust – Lessons from the Ryan Braun Story

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.

7 Comments on “The Fragility of Trust – Lessons from the Ryan Braun Story

  1. It’s unfortunate but in today’s world of professional sports not only do an athlete’s actions determine how he is perceived but also the actions of his peers. When it comes to PEDs, athletes are guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion. The same is true of leaders. When one strays from the high road it calls the character of his peers into question as well. We all need to work hard to build trust and when we see one of our peers heading down the wrong path it is important to have the courage to address it.

    • Thanks for your comments. You’re so right…unfortunately leaders, as well as athletes, are presumed guilty unless proven innocent (a key argument that Braun made in his press conference). We we sign up for a leadership position, we’re putting ourselves under the microscope and it’s important that we all call each other to higher levels of leadership.

  2. Even unfounded rumour or uninformed comment can ruin the perception people have of you. I have had personal experience of perceptions going amok. It really has the potential to ruin one’s life.

    As much as it is important to remain aware of this and avoid anything that might cast a shadow on one’s reputation, it is as important that we defend the reputation of those around us vigorously, and build strong trust relations.

    In doing so, we also buy an insurance policy against vindictive comments, allegation and rumour. Those we have defended in the past and those convinced of our integrity will be more successful than we could ever be at dispelling such attacks.

    • You make an interesting point Daryl. I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of others coming to our aid to defend our reputation. I think we’ve seen some of that in this particular case with Ryan Bruan, and Bruan himself has taken a vigorous approach to defending his reputation.

      Take care,


  3. Interestingly enough I was just givng a talk today on intergrity and how it opens doors if you have it and how if even the suggestion of misbehavior can quickly clos doors of opportunity. Thanks for pointing out how important our choices and behaviors are.

  4. Pingback: Four Reasons You’re an Epic Failure in Building Trust | Blanchard LeaderChat

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