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Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Not for Braun

By Zach Goldaber

Milwaukee Brewers slugger and reigning National League MVP made waves last week when he became the first major league baseball player to successfully appeal (and overturn) a 50-game suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs. In doing so, Braun revealed that the American public is not as firm a believer in the age-old doctrine of innocent until proven guilty as we all like to think.

The facts are this: Braun and his legal team had to prove that the validity of Braun’s urine sample was at any point in doubt. Win, and Braun’s suspension is overturned and his record cleared. Lose, and Braun misses 50 games of the regular season and has his legacy tainted forever.

The Brewers slugger himself proclaimed that he was fighting appeal both to proclaim his innocence and to fight the notion the “he was 100 percent guilty until proven innocent — (the) opposite of the American judicial situation,” as Braun himself stated in an interview with NBC Sports on Friday.

Braun’s legal team won by showing a panel of three men, including an independent arbitrator, that Braun’s sample was left unprotected in a drug tester’s refrigerator for two days. Under testing regulations, it ought instead to have been dropped off at a FedEx location with facilities to secure the sample in anticipation of shipment to the testing lab in Montreal.

The attorneys’ logic was that the time the sample was left unprotected violated Braun’s right of due process, and the panel agreed with them by a 2-1 vote, exonerating Braun. There, the story should’ve ended. Instead, it did not. While Americans love to proclaim their respect for the judicial system, they do not practice what they preach – not when it comes to baseball, but also not when it comes to the judicial system. Ryan Braun’s case is a wonderful example of how Americans view criminal actions as a whole. If someone seems like a villain instead of a victim, they are condemned as guilty before proven innocent.

For example, many commentators have stated their belief that Braun was guilty of steroid use in spite of the successful due process argument. MLB officials themselves implicitly agreed in a statement released Friday when they stated that “neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association) contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”

That sort of argument is disgusting and shows a total lack of respect for the legal process. No reasonable person would reject using a due process argument if it could lead to their exoneration in criminal court.  The burden was on Major League Baseball to prove that Braun’s test was ironclad. They failed. Braun’s legal team took the easiest path to victory, and for that they should be commended.

It was not their job, nor Braun’s, to prove that his test was negative, just that there was a chance it might be tainted and therefore not positive They won their case on those grounds, and on that basis Braun was declared innocent. Instead, he has been excoriated by a cynical American public who are not willing to apply the same standards they might to a normal citizen to a public figure.

Ryan Braun’s record is now clean and clear, as it should be. His story has instead raised questions about the record of Americans and their belief in the basic groundwork of our legal system.

Most Americans expect to be considered innocent until proven guilty if they are ever placed on trial. But their willingness to condemn Braun and other figures of his stature in spite of their legal innocence indicates that the reality in our country today is very different indeed.

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