Ryan Braun cleared, but is he ‘innocent’?

Ryan Braun cleared, but is he ‘innocent’?

Last week, a three-member panel of arbiters overturned the 50-game ban imposed on Ryan Braun, the National League MVP-winning outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. A urine sample collected in October purportedly came back with a testosterone level three to four times higher than the highest result ever recorded.

This marks the first time a player has won an appeal of this nature.

Many fans were elated. Braun has always presented himself as a role model and upright citizen; it would have been a shanda for one of the Jewish Major Leaguers to be found guilty of such an act.

There are those, however, who are not satisfied with the outcome. Numerous sports and news commentators have opined that the decision came only because of a technicality — it had not been proved that Braun had not used a performance-enhancing drug; his appeal was upheld, rather, because of the manner in which the sample was handled. It did not reach the World Anti-Doping Agency in Montreal for almost two days, raising all sorts of “chain of custody” issues. Evidently, there was enough of a doubt in the minds of two of the three arbiters to rule in Braun’s favor, but not enough to clear the athlete’s name absolutely.

Braun held a press conference at the Brewers’ spring training facility in Phoenix on Feb. 24, stating, among other things, that his innocence had been proved, but not everyone saw it that way. That could lead to psychological issues, according to Dr. Stanley H. Teitelbaum, PhD, author of Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols: How Star Athletes Pursue Self-Destructive Paths and Jeopardize Their Careers and Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side: Sex, Drugs, and Cover-Ups.

“I’m really of several minds on this,” said Teitelbaum — a resident of Teaneck who teaches at the New Jersey Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis and the Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in New Jersey. In a phone interview with NJ Jewish News he said he was surprised by the “animosity” and “vilification” Braun received since the results — which were supposed to be confidential — were leaked following the conclusion of the 2011 season.

The ordeal that Braun “had to go through because of the process of the media vilification is enormous,” said Teitelbaum. “It was an assault on his integrity, it was character assassination, ridicule, all of which I thought was excessive. And guilty or not… I think that does leave some damaging, permanent scars on his psyche.”

There was an “overzealous reaction on the part of the media to bring him down and destroy him, and I think once the media does that, there’s just so much stuff you can tune out and the rest somehow affects you in some way,” Teitelbaum said.

Teitelbaum said sports fans have become cynical after so many protestations of innocence by athletes who are accused of imbibing in PEDs. When these allegations first came to light, in the late 1990s, fans and writers were stunned. “Over time, because this has happened so often and come up in so many situations, it’s like the outrage has been replaced by indifference and skepticism,” he said.

In 2011, Braun finished in the top 10 for several offensive categories, including 33 home runs, 111 runs batted in, and a .332 batting average. All of those numbers were consistent with his previous four Major League seasons (which has been part of Braun’s defense). It would stand to reason that he might not be able to sustain that level, that he might have an “off year.” Teitelbaum said he would not be surprised if Braun’s productivity in 2012 would be “adversely affected” because of the cloud that remains over his head.

“If he became a 20-something home run hitter and an under .300 batting average hitter for this season, I think that would go along with my speculation that these things can be launched in your unconscious. There’s some kind of psychic scar which, although you’re not thinking of it at the time, is there and it can interfere with performance.”

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