Tainted Love

Ryan BraunBaseball is viewed as our national pastime. But in actuality steroids are making baseball past its time for many other reasons. Recently, Ryan Braun became the newest member of baseball’s CSUC, the Convicted Steroid Users Club. He has now destroyed his image of a hard-working power hitter for a hard-nosed team in a blue-collar city. Once viewed as one of the game’s up-and-coming stars, Braun must now live with this stain for the rest of his life. And baseball now has another huge bruise it must cover up, but I’m afraid this one will require some serious reconstructive surgery.

Braun made a splash in the big leagues as a rookie, swatting home run after home run, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to new winning ways. Before, fans only showed up to MillerPark because it was sponsored by a beer company. Now, along with Prince Fielder, fans had something to gloat about and root for. From the naked eye, he looked like a medium-sized built player who just had an unbelievable swing and eye for the ball. Looking back at it now, it all makes too much sense.

With steroids and PEDs becoming a major issue in the post-Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds era, Braun had been viewed as one of the good guys. A role model for young players, if you will. Hard work and dedication can pay off. The adage, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” is a myth. Now the only thing mythical about Braun is Braun himself, and this represents another devastating blow to the game of baseball.

The main crux of the issue lies with the deterrence for using performance enhancing drugs. Even though players know it’s bad for the sport, why do they continue to take banned substances? It’s because they get paid the big bucks to produce. This is why over the years many owners and managers kept their mouths shut and looked the other way. They saw all the butts in the seats for every game. Revenue was up. Home runs were up. Popularity was up. The only thing that was down was the integrity of the game and that didn’t matter one bit to those profiting owners. Teams generated money and players got a piece of the pie. Both parties won.

Money is the key ingredient to this all. Baseball thinks it can suspend players 50 and 100 games, and have that be enough to prevent players using PEDs. I don’t think so. Sure, strides have been made, but going from awful to terrible is still pretty bad. And when a superstar like Braun is a member of the CUSC, the game’s image and integrity plummets. No one cares when the stupid bully cheats on a test, but when the class valedictorian does, it’s a big deal.

Let’s examine how this whole Braun thing has played out. He first was suspected of steroid use, but avoided punishment because of a technicality. The handler of the evidence “handled” it in a way that was against protocol, and Braun’s representation jumped on this mistake. It’s like when a guilty party gets off because he has a really good lawyer. Everyone knows he is guilty but the system does not allow the right justice to be served. Secondly, in this entire process, he maintained his innocence, still holding on to the last ounces of trust we had left in him as fans of the game. With his PED use now confirmed, he not only cheated the game, but all the people associated with it. Players, owners, managers, family, friends and especially us, the fans, the ones who pay his salary. We were duped.

With Braun reaching an agreement with MLB, he is now suspended for the remainder of the season and gets to hide away on vacation and let his negative rep linger in the background. People won’t forget, but they will forgive as soon as he starts hitting home runs next year. Especially with the attention now on Alex Rodriguez, Braun might actually end up as the good guy, relatively.

The bottom line is that players are cheating to produce. Then, they get paid because of their production. And no suspension of games is going to take a significant chunk of change out of their pocket to deter them from cheating until they get caught. Sure it is $3 million, but what is three million compared to the $52 million they are making because of their PED use. It’s almost as if it is a tax that if they are careful enough, they might not have to pay.

With Braun’s guilt, it just adds another big name to the list of stars who cheated, except this guy represented a glimmer of hope in a new of era of trying to rid baseball of steroids. In fact, he now has put baseball and its integrity in an even worse state. He is the bad apple that has spoiled the bunch. It does not matter that many players are playing the game the right way. Braun cheated, he signed his big contract, and now has to face a slap on the wrist for his mistake, while baseball faces the brunt of the punishment. Do you think Braun cares he might be hated every time he plays on the road from now on? Maybe. But he will quickly forget about this problem whenever he checks his bank account.

I propose that baseball needs to enact clauses in all contracts stating that any player guilty of steroid or PED use will have his contract voided at the team’s discretion. It is not about the number of games he misses. It is about the big picture financial impact that getting caught will have on a player. Take away the guaranteed contract. Take away the sponsors. Take away the stability. Then, only then, can you have a deterrent to improve the tainted image on the game. Good luck baseball. This fan is rooting for you.

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Paul Culley
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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