We all do it. That little judge in our minds bangs the gavel and declares, “Guilty!” when the words “tested positive” flash across the computer screen. Case closed. We decry. We smirk. 

Mob rules.

Ryan Braun‘s suspension over a positive PED test was overturned by an arbitrator, and a ruckus has been raised by the mob as a result. The results did not sway the mob, as the Brewers slugger appears to have been exonerated on a mere technicality. 

It helps to begin by saying the arbitrator’s decision was not based on a simple technicality. Chain of custody is vital to preserve the integrity of collected samples, and the sample collector certainly did not follow protocol. Whether he put the sample in his refrigerator or left it sitting in a tupperware bin on his desk, the chain of custody was compromised and the tested sample could no longer be trusted.

Was the sample tampered with? Did the sample somehow degrade because of poor storage conditions? These are important questions that arise when the chain of custody is broken, hence the arbitrator’s ruling.

Skeptics mock Braun, saying he tested positive and that is the only truth in the matter. That is far from the truth, however, at least based on our knowledge of the situation. That we do not know what happened to his sample between collection and testing means we know squat about whether Braun tested positive or not. 

And what of Braun’s measurables and metrics? He claims he has not gained a single pound or decreased his base-running splits by one-tenth of a second. I will trust him on that count—with a grain of salt, of course—since I do not have access to that week-to-week data. I do have access to his career numbers, though, and here is how they pan out:

2007 113 492 451 91 146 34 97 15 29 112 .324 .370 .634 1.004 154
2008 151 663 611 92 174 37 106 14 42 129 .285 .335 .553 .888 130
2009 158 708 635 113 203 32 114 20 57 121 .320 .386 .551 .937 146
2010 157 685 619 101 188 25 103 14 56 105 .304 .365 .501 .866 131
2011 150 629 563 109 187 33 111 33 58 93 .332 .397 .597 .994 166

Setting aside that he has great career numbers, has Braun been taking PEDs throughout his five-year career and managing to get away with it this whole time? He has been consistent thus far in his career, and he is just now hitting his prime. I expect that to continue, even if he has an abnormally good or bad season because of this whole mess.

Is this proof he is not doping? No, it is purely circumstantial. Neither is an aberrant, morbidly positive test on a mishandled test sample proof that he is juicing, however. We are in the court of public opinion, not a federal court room, but there exists here more than a reasonable doubt.

Healthy skepticism is a good thing; without it, science would stagnate. This is not a question of science, however, not when it comes to judging a man guilty for a transgression nobody can ultimately prove. 

True, he may have simply beat the system and fooled the likes of me in the process. While it may be naive to take Braun on his word, though, I suppose I tend to see the sample cup as half full. At the very least, judgment has been reserved for another day.

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