Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Is Ryan Braun a Bad Person? or: Why the Biogenesis Scandal is Terrifying

It's a rare occasion a person will be as universally reviled as Ryan Braun is right now. The national media, fans, and even teammates are none too keen on Mr Braun. Their indignation is righteous as he both cheated and spent fourteen months lying about it, highlighted by a victory speech which, like Tom Petty's 'Don't Come Around Here No More' music video, disturbs me to the point I will never again watch it. The consensus is Braun is clearly a bad guy. I do not believe this is true, rather, I believe his actions are an inevitable outcome of the human condition. This, I think, is infinitely more unsettling than anything to be found in the Biogenesis scandal.

The world today is unlike anything humanity has ever seen. In particular, there is a 24-hour news cycle with an insatiable appetite for dirty laundry and a series of tubes known as "The Internet," both of which ensure any misstep will documented for billions to see. There is no escape if you're unfortunate enough to be the object of scorn, though it's hard to blame one for trying. Consider the following examples:

1) Rafael Palmeiro: His tremendous career (3020 hits, 569 HR, 132 OPS+) is overshadowed by the following statement made at a congressional hearing" I never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period." Five months later he was suspended for using steroids.

2) William Jefferson Clinton: In 1998 we was both a) Married, and b) the most powerful man on Earth. He had sexual relations with that woman, but told a grand jury he did not.

3) Manti Te'o: His brilliant play for Notre Dame was (allegedly) inspired by a terminally ill girlfriend that did not exist. The 21st century version of "Win one for the Gipper" became one of the most embarrassing episodes imaginable. Te'o never told the truth about the situation, even though he knew his "girlfriend" was fake well after "her" story became nationally news.

4) Ryan Braun: No explanation necessary.

Are all four of these people narcissistic sociopaths incapable of telling the truth when it would be disadvantageous to their current situation? Perhaps. But every additional high-profile case of someone lying when the truth would set them free suggests something much more terrifying is going on.

In Breaking Bad Walter White gets diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and starts cooking the finest crystal meth in all of Albuquerque to provide for his family after his (presumably) imminent death. Mr White's initial intentions, while tragically misguided, were pure. In the same vein of good intentions leading to moral decay, I believe PED users fall into the same trap. They have nagging injuries to heal, want to impress the tens of thousands of people that pay hundreds of dollars to watch them play, or have some other legitimate concern. Unfortunately PEDs are an exit to an inescapable road of lies. This leads us back to Biogenesis.

What Ryan Braun did was bad. The morality of PEDs is, in my opinion, still a debate. However, lying is almost universally wrong. I'm scared when I put myself in his position because I cannot say with certainty I would not follow the same path.* If I take my medicine, own up the unscrupulous activity, and accept the punishment my transgressions will be forgotten in time. But what if there's another option? What if I proclaim my innocence and make MLB prove their case? Better yet, what if they fail and I win the appeal? Now I can say I got screwed by the process and take my chances on everything going away. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? The latter option is irresistibly appealing because of the infinite upside. You beat the wrap and are vindicated forever. The alternative is being labeled a cheater for the rest of your career, even if people care less and less as time passes.

*I like to believe I would never take PEDs, either, but if I had chronic back pain and someone said "Take this, it will make you feel better. By the way, it's 50 games if you get busted with it, but this stuff is almost impossible to detect." I would be very tempted to take the substance.

So what would you do? The litany of case studies suggests you'd proclaim innocence and hope for the best. You're standing on the brink of being hated by millions of people if the truth comes to light. Confess and you'll surely be despised and booed and lose heckled forever. Lie and you just might get away with it. Though lying is the wrong thing to do, the reward is avoiding a nightmare I cannot begin to comprehend.

Is Ryan Braun a bad person? I believe the answer is no. He cheated and then lied with a ferocious intensity. Both things, but especially the lying, are wrong, reprehensible...and exactly what most people would do in his situation. It doesn't make him right, it makes him human. We are all capable of doing what Braun did, and I find that terrifying.

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