As the repercussions of Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for PEDs being overturned continue to churn, an unexpected turn of events has unfolded: baseball’s drug policy, not Braun, has come under fire. Because Braun’s case was overturned, not on the merits of some evidence that exonerated his high levels of synthetic testosterone in his system (his testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio (T/E) showed 20:1 or 16 points over the threshold for a positive test), but due to a breach in the chain of custody protocol, baseball has been rocked on its heels.
On Friday, the league and the union for the players sounded a unified chord. Statements by both MLB Exec. VP of Labor Relations Rob Manfred, and MLBPA Exec. Dir. Michael Weiner released statements defending the system.
And while the drug policy follows many of the same procedures as other leagues, and adjustments are being made to it, likely as you read this, the back story of who leaked Braun’s positive test is still being played out. Here is the statement from Michael Weiner (emphasis added)
“Our Joint Drug Program stands as strong, as accurate and as reliable as any in sport, both before and after the Braun decision. 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.”
Now, from Manfred (emphasis added)
“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.
“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.”
As I wrote early Friday morning before these statements were released, the MLBPA said at the time that they had no intent on filing a grievance, and the league stated that they had no plans of launching an internal investigation.
It may not happen today. It may not happen in the near-future, but based upon communications from both the league and union for the players, it seems that they have a good feel for where the leak may have come from. They aren’t saying, but based upon the fact that the league, PA, and those associated with the Program have already been taken out of consideration, they have a pretty good idea of where the source is at.
The drug policy in baseball was challenged. It is “flawed” in that a portion of the chain of custody protocol was disputed, and was ruled by arbitrator Shyam Das to place reasonable doubt on the collection process for Braun’s test. The policy is not “fatally flawed”. There is a large difference.
What does need to be addressed is who has access to information about a positive test. If the policy’s cornerstone is confidentiality, then it may be that who has access to information in the Program is the real aspect that is “flawed”.
Major League Baseball, and the MLBPA need to address what “confidentiality” really is. The JDA can be addressed, but the internal workings of who can tie a test sample to a name is severe weakness in the process. Hopefully, that is taken on as much priority as the chain of custody protocol that allowed Braun to have his 50-game suspension overturned.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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