- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2012

VIERA, Fla. — The television at the entrance to the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse was blaring the biggest news in baseball Friday morning. Ryan Braun, the National League MVP and a player well-liked by many on the Nationals, had been exonerated, winning his appeal of a positive drug test for a banned substance.

Most were pleased by the decision — seeing the player and their union able to fight something that can so easily tarnish a players reputation and taint their career. “A player’s worst nightmare is a false positive,” one Nationals player said in passing.

To a man, each player asked was quick to point out two things: that no one knew the whole story and that it was proof the appeals process can work for players — that they do have a leg to stand on when it comes to drug testing.

“I’m happy for him,” said Nationals’ third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who knows Braun well. “I think there’s more to the story. He’s had to sit back for the last three months and get beat up and not be able to say anything. Unfortunately in that system you’re guilty until proven innocent.. but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”

In an afternoon press conference at the Brewers’ complex in Arizona, Braun was adamant that he was the victim in this case and his exoneration should prove his innocence resoundingly.

“Today is for everybody who has ever been wrongly accused,” Braun told reporters. “The simple truth is that I’m innocent. The truth is always relevant and the truth prevailed.

“If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say I did it. I would bet my life this substance never entered my body … I’ve lived this nightmare every day for the past four months. At the end of the day, the truth prevailed. I’m the victim of a process that completely broke down.”

Drug testing has come leaps and bounds in the last decade, the players said, and the victory for them in Braun’s appeal was not “the players union” against “Major League Baseball” — two parties who’ve enjoyed a strong relationship of late — but that an independent verdict was allowed. Once a player gives a urine sample for testing, they’re at the mercy of the collectors that it’ll be handled properly. In Braun’s case, it was ruled it was not.

“It’s nice to know that there is an appeals process you can go through and clear your name,” said Nationals infielder Mark DeRosa, a University of Pennsylvania-educated player who was in the league when drug testing first became routine. “I know Ryan well and he’s one of the best players in the game, but he came out and fought from the moment this was announced that he was telling the truth — that something was obviously wrong.

“Hey, I know if I didn’t do anything wrong and I tested positive, I would want an opportunity to appeal it and prove my side. I think that’s all he was looking for. If that bothers people, I mean, he has to worry about sitting out 50 games; an MVP award. He’s playing on a whole different level than a guy like myself but at the same time, if you feel strongly about something and you believe in your heart you didn’t do anything wrong, you should have the ability to argue things.”

Nationals closer Drew Storen, the team’s player’s union representative, said it was important to remember that the union and the league are both aiming for the same goal: a drug-free culture. For that reason, he said, he didn’t believe the verdict, which MLB released a statement Thursday saying they “vehemently disagreed” with, would cause friction between the two sides.

“Everybody wants a drug-free environment,” he said. “It’s not just like we’re trying to get away with a bunch of stuff, it’s not anything like that… we’re all trying to reach the same goal.”

The biggest issue players had was with the fact that Braun’s positive test had gotten out in the first place. In accordance with major league baseball’s policies, positive results are not supposed to become public until after a player has been allowed an appeal and, if still found guilty, a punishment has been decided. Braun is the first player to ever win an appeal but those who’ve been suspended before him for positive test results, it’s believed, have all tried.

“That’s the biggest problem,” Zimmerman said of the results leaking in Braun’s case. “This is our livelihood. That’s the biggest thing that can be put on you that takes away your reputation and everything you’ve ever worked for. You get (a positive test) once in your career, you’re screwed for the rest of your life. Everyone’s always going to remember that. That’s why these things are so important.

“Careers are fragile and when you work as hard as he has to be the player he is and win MVPs, to have it all taken away from one, faulty test (is unfortunate). … It’s just not a good situation for the players because our trust is laid 100 percent in the system and (the company MLB contracts the testing to). If they mess up, it’s not them who’ll get in trouble. Someone might lose a job or they might lose their contract with MLB but they’ll get plenty of other contracts. Ryan Braun’s not going to get his reputation back (if he tests positive). That’s the biggest thing.”

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