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Baseball's Reigning MVP Wins Appeal On Positive Drug Test

Feb 23, 2012
Originally published on February 23, 2012 6:26 pm

Last year's National League MVP has just won an appeal on a positive drug test, which means he will not be suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 season.

Two of the three on the appeals panel agreed with Ryan Braun's argument that his sample was contaminated and resulted in a false positive. According The New York Times, Major League Baseball "vehemently disagreed" with the decision, while Braun issued a statement saying he was "pleased and relieved by today's decision."

The AP reports:

"MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred and union head Michael Weiner are part of the arbitration panel, and management and the union almost always split their votes, leaving [Shyam] Das, the independent panel member, to make the decision.

"Manfred said management disagreed with the decision by Das. It is the first time a drug suspension has been overturned in a grievance, baseball officials said.

The Times gives us a bit of background on the case:

"The first test result revealed that Braun had elevated levels of testosterone in his body. The test showed a prohibited substance in Braun's body, but not a steroid, according to a person familiar with the results.

"Braun learned of the result in late October and insisted that the test was flawed. He took a second test done by an independent laboratory that showed he had normal levels of testosterone, the person said. Braun's lawyers argued that the first sample was improperly handled and the results were therefore flawed.

"Under Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the testing service, Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., 'absent unusual circumstance' is supposed to send specimens to the testing laboratory in Montreal on the same day they are collected. Braun's lawyers argued that his sample was not sent for roughly 48 hours."

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. For the first time ever, a Major League baseball player has challenged a positive drug test result and won. National League MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was facing a 50-game suspension after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone last October. But Braun and his lawyers appealed the decision to an arbitration panel, and now Ryan Braun is clear to play ball. Joining us now to talk about it is NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Tom, exactly how did this arbitration panel explain its decision today? What did they announce?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, the Major League Baseball Players Association made the announcement that the panel voted 2-to-1 to uphold Ryan Braun's challenge to his 50-game suspension. Now, normally, the drug testing process is confidential, but since his test results came out and news leaked out about Braun having a hearing before the arbitration panel recently, the parties involved in this agreed that the announcement was appropriate. The deciding vote on the panel was by the arbitrator, a man named Shyam Das. And Major League Baseball released a statement saying it vehemently disagrees with his decision.

CORNISH: And, of course, I mean, this is historic, right? A huge surprise.

GOLDMAN: It is, yeah. As you said, first Major Leaguer to overturn a suspension.

CORNISH: So what's the reaction from Braun?

Well, he released a statement. He said: I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.

Now, is there any indication about why the arbitrators sided with him? I mean, explain to me how you overturn a positive drug test result.

GOLDMAN: I would like to. But no reasons were given. A couple of sources have indicated, though, that it wasn't as Braun insists that he was innocent but that the testing process was flawed, and he got off on a technicality. Now, this could be things like chain of custody, who had control of the drug samples as they went, you know, up the chain through testing? It's a very, very specific process and very carefully laid out. And if there were problems in that, that could constitute enough to overturn this.

Now, if that were the case, that would be a surprise as well, Audie, because the tests were carried out at the highly respected World Anti-Doping Agency laboratory in Montreal. It's pretty much the gold standard for drug testing.

CORNISH: So what kind of impact is this going to have, this decision?

GOLDMAN: Well, it calls into question baseball's drug testing program, especially if there were flaws in the process. In its few years of existence, that program has established itself as one of the best, if not the best, in major pro sports. For the Milwaukee Brewers, this is a very positive development. Ryan Braun gets to report to spring training tomorrow. The team was looking at not having him for its first 50 games.

CORNISH: NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.