Neil Weinberg is the Founder of New English D and writes at Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.
Ryan Braun made a mistake. He used a banned substance. Then he won his appeal on a chain of custody issue and made a bold, defiant statement. He trashed the collector. He asked us to believe in him. You know how the story ends. Or at least where it goes next.
Braun’s name showed up in documents connected to Biogenesis and he ultimately agreed to serve a 65 game suspension as punishment. On Thursday, he released a statement in which he apologized for taking the banned substance and for his actions since.
But that didn’t seem to satisfy anyone. It rekindled the vitriol that had recently been reserved for Alex Rodriguez who continues to play during his own appeal. Braun is public enemy number one, again.
I’m not writing in defense of Braun. He broke the rules and he lied about it. He cheated, got away with it, and still came out swinging at that infamous press conference in February 2012. He deserves the punishment and he certainly deserves to lose your respect. But the hatred is strange. It’s not surprising, but it’s still over the top.
What would you have done if you were Braun? Could you really be sure you wouldn’t be tempted by PEDs? Would you have come clean the second the test came back positive? Would you have admitted to using even after you won your appeal? The best you could probably say is that you wouldn’t have attacked the collector.
But as Braun said in his statement, he was delusional. He couldn’t admit to himself that he had cheated. He rationalized his behavior so that he could live with the guilt. It’s a pretty common reaction in the aftermath of a big mistake. But the dye was cast. Once he went down that road, there was nothing he could do to reverse course. He couldn’t push back the hands of the clock and undo the damage, so he just marched on until the Biogenesis scandal hit and it started all over.
Braun finally came to terms with the mistakes he made and admitted to them in his apology on Thursday. You don’t have to forgive Braun or go buy his jersey, but you also shouldn’t be so angry.
If you expect every star athlete to be a model citizen, you’re asking to be deceived. Being born with immense talent doesn’t mean you’re born with impeccable character. A good work ethic doesn’t mean a good sense of ethics. They’re allowed to make mistakes. They’re allowed to be in denial about those mistakes. And they’re allowed time to understand what they’ve done. Just like the rest of us.
A friend once told me the basis of all misunderstanding is that we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. We can only see what Braun did and not what Braun thought. I imagine that if we could see into his mind, it would look a lot more like our own than we want to imagine.
You would forgive Braun if he was your best friend. You’d say he was a good guy who made a bad choice. You have friends and family members who have made mistakes and you stuck by them. Just because you don’t know Braun doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve the same chance to make amends.
That’s really all that I’m asking. You don’t have to love him, but apathy is much more appropriate than anger. Unless the collector he attacked is reading this, Braun didn’t do anything that really affected any of you.
Even more than that, Braun’s crimes don’t measure up to others that we don’t seem to care much about as a society. Where’s the outrage about the drunk driver winning the Triple Crown? Do we boycott games if one of the players has allegations of violence against women hanging over their heads? NFL fans cheer for Michael Vick and Nike signs him to an endorsement deal, but Ryan Braun is the outcast. The cheat. The liar.
Does that really make sense? Braun tried to use an artificial substance to make himself better, got caught, and lied about it. He’s not a good guy, but the reaction isn’t in line with the offense. Others have done worse and felt less hatred. Is it because Braun was at the pinnacle of the sport? Is that why he’s such a target?
Normally, I try to ignore the off-field sideshows and focus on the players between the lines, but this situation calls for some cooler heads. Everyone is getting so angry about something that seems so predictable.
Someone tried to get ahead, got caught, and tried to talk their way out of it. That’s all this is. It’s not Braun’s responsibility to teach your children about integrity. It’s not his job to be a role model. It’s his job to be in the lineup and crush baseballs. The Brewers pay him to do that, the rest is an unfair burden to place on anyone.
Not everyone can be Stan Musial – a gentleman and a master of his craft. Just because Braun is famous, doesn’t mean you should expect him to be perfect. You wouldn’t judge a truck driver or a bank teller so harshly.
It’s not so much that Braun deserves better, it’s that you shouldn’t allow Braun to move you to anger. There’s an ugliness to the reaction that’s undignified. To judge Braun, you need to be better than Braun. And to be better than Braun, you need to be above the personal attacks for which you criticized him.
I’m disappointed in Braun. I’m not angry. He did this to himself and he’ll pay the price. The best lesson you can take from this whole ordeal is that if you want there to be role models in the world, you have to be one yourself. And a really good step in that direction isn’t to call Braun names, or even cheer while a pitcher throws at another alleged cheater. The first step is to accept Braun’s apology and give him a chance to make it right.
That’s what I’ll be doing and I hope you will join me.