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Brewers LF Ryan Braun became the first MLBer to have a positive drug test "overturned on appeal when he was informed that a three-man arbitration panel ruled against a 50-game suspension that would have begun on opening day," according to a front-page piece by Tom Haudricourt of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. After MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner voted in favor of Braun and MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations & HR Rob Manfred voted "to uphold the test result," independent arbitrator Shyam Das "cast the decisive vote." He ruled in Braun's favor "because of a chain-of-custody dispute that occurred after his urine sample was taken" during an Oct. 1 drug test. Sources said that the sample "was not dropped off that day at FedEx to be sent to the MLB testing lab in Montreal because the collector thought it was too late and the shipping company was closed." The collector instead "kept the sample, and perhaps others, refrigerated at home for two days before making the shipment." Though the seals on the samples were "unbroken upon arriving at the lab, that lapse in protocol became the crux of the hearing in which Braun's side contested the validity of the test itself." The MLB drug policy states in part, "Absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the laboratory on the same day they are collected." MLB in a statement said it "vehemently disagrees" with the decision. While MLB officials considered Braun's exoneration "to be based strictly on a technicality, the player's side did not see it that way." Because of the delay in shipping, "they considered the chain of custody broken and therefore the test itself to be invalid." Sources said that 12 players have "previously appealed positive tests without success." By design, MLB "would not announce a successful appeal because of the supposed confidentiality of the program." It "remains to be seen if the source of the leaks will be identified and if they compromise the drug program going forward" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 2/24). The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham said, "The good feelings that existed during the collective bargaining agreement have been torn apart a little bit by this decision, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here” (“NESN Daily,” NESN, 2/23).WILL MLB CHANGE THE POLICY? In N.Y., Thompson, O'Keeffe & Martino cite sources as saying that baseball has "already begun discussing adjustments in its collection process with the union but it is not expected to challenge the arbitrator’s ruling and believes its drug program is solid." One source said, "It’s a technical problem that can be fixed." One player who was tested in the offseason said of the collection process, "The chaperone comes to your house (or to the clubhouse), and he physically watches you urinate into a plastic cup. ... He leaves with your sample in the sealed box. I think it is a stretch to think that someone is going to take your sample and alter it, but I suppose it is possible" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/24). Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki said, "You get a scenario like this where a guy is presumed guilty and now he's innocent, it makes you feel like it could happen to anybody. I think we all need to watch out for our protection. The testing might need to be reviewed" (DENVER POST, 2/24). The JOURNAL SENTINEL's Haudricourt said, “We do have some questions to answer about the process, and I think we’re going to hear a lot in the coming days about whether they’ll be any changes or not” (JSONLINE.com, 2/23). ESPN's Buster Olney: "I do think there will be a lot of discussion about change in the drug testing system going forward, including rewriting of the protocol” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 2/24). But former WADA Chair Gary Wadler said that MLB's drug-testing program "should not be condemned" despite the overturned suspension. Wadler said, "Just because one case is reversed doesn't mean that the whole system is broken by any means of the imagination. One swallow does not make a summer. I think it would be a terrible tragedy if players throw out drug testing and say it doesn't work." U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said, "It's a gut kick to clean athletes in baseball for a technicality like this to undermine their rights" (USA TODAY, 2/24).
BIG BLOW TO MLB: In N.Y., Belson & Schmidt note the ruling "was a blow to Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig, who has repeatedly said that his sport now has a comprehensive testing system second to none and that it has fully addressed a drug problem that has plagued it for more than a decade." Braun's successful appeal "raises fresh questions about whether other positive drug tests might have been the result of inefficient shipping methods or outright tampering, and it could provide a road map for other players in the future as they seek to overturn positive test results" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/24). Also in N.Y., Joel Sherman writes under the header, "MLB Big Losers After Letting Braun Off The Hook." Sherman: "I sense the majority of devoted fans will believe that Braun won because of the incompetence of someone else and not because he was pristine. This will haunt him." However, it is baseball itself that will "be most haunted now." At a time when there was "some belief being restored that the testing works and that banned drugs were -- if not being eliminated -- at least being significantly diminished in the sport, there is this" (N.Y. POST, 2/24). Sherman added, “This one is going to stain Major League Baseball at a moment where they felt like they were moving away from this steroid era" ("Yankees Baseball Daily, YES Network, 2/23). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley writes MLB's drug-testing policy "now has a crack in it" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 2/24). ESPN.com's David Schoenfield wrote under the header, "Braun's Overturn A Sad Day For Baseball." Schoenfield: "I want to believe that MLB's drug testing program works. ... But I can't believe that. Instead, I believe this is a troubling day for baseball." The system "didn't work" (ESPN.com, 2/23).
TECHNICALITY WINS THE DAY: YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan writes under the header, "Braun Ruling Deals Blow To Selig's Testing Program." Braun "beat the program," as his lawyers "never bothered arguing whether or not Braun had taken the synthetic testosterone that showed up in his urine." The appeal succeeded on "a technicality." It was a "loophole," and most of all, it was "brilliant lawyering by Braun's attorneys." Passan: "To lose for the first time in arbitration, then, and in such fashion no less, devastated those in baseball committed to making the game as clean as possible." One baseball official said, "This is like a criminal getting off because he wasn't read his Miranda rights" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/24). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner writes Braun succeeded "on a technicality; there's no other way to say it." On some level, MLB is "probably happy that Braun was not suspended," as he is the "best player on a small-market playoff team." But publicly, baseball "came out firing against Braun," and MLB's "frustration is understandable." Their "doping cops nabbed a big game and let him get away" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/24). In Oakland, Monte Poole notes the arbitrator's decision "means only that Braun beat the system." Braun "walks, in short, on a technicality." Poole: "What it does is make MLB a clear loser. What it also does is compel every clean player to wonder just how secure MLB's drug-testing procedures are, and, moreover, whether they can really be successful" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 2/24).
THE SYSTEM WORKS: CBSSPORTS.com's Danny Knobler wrote if baseball or "any other sport is going to have a drug-testing system, there needs to be a way for a player to appeal a positive test." If there is "going to be an appeal process, it needs to be fair enough that if the player makes a legitimate case that the test was flawed, he gets off." Knobler: "Does it mean that Ryan Braun is absolutely clean? There's absolutely no way to know that, just as there's no way to know it with certainty about any player. But with this verdict, he gets as much the benefit of the doubt as anyone else. ... It means that the system works" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/23). SI.com's Epstein & Lemire write, "Whether one agrees with the end result or not, Braun received his due process and the ruling was administered by an independent arbitrator who has been working on such cases since 2000" (SI.com, 2/24). FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote, "It’s called due process, folks. You might not like or even trust the result. But the rules were collectively bargained." Rosenthal: "Don’t tell me that Braun got off because he is the National League MVP, because baseball is trying to protect his image, because he plays for commissioner Bud Selig’s former team. ... The better questions concern how the sport’s case fell apart" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/23). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, "I understand why baseball’s angry because it calls their test into question. They spent so much time establishing good relationships by great testing and now everybody is free to appeal.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said MLB has this “mechanism set up to appeal and that appeal’s been heard." Wilbon: "That seems to me to be as essential to the system as the drug test” (“PTI,” ESPN, 2/23). In Seattle, Larry Stone notes there is a "collectively bargained mechanism for a player to dispute a positive drug test." Braun "went through the process, and won." MLB should "accept that, or why have the appeal process in the first place?" (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/24).
Pundits wonder how Braun's successful appeal will affect credibility of drug testing
The NFL is “contemplating making several significant changes in the next few years” to its scouting combine, including “having prospects race against one another in the 40-yard dash and compete side by side to bench-press 225 pounds the most often,” according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. NFL Exec VP/Business Ventures Eric Grubman said, “We would not want to do something that was just good for television, or just good for the fans, if it were at the expense of either the football evaluation or the players’ preparation. It’s a balancing act. The combine works.” The NFL said the changes would “probably be introduced first at the smaller regional combines before being brought to the main combine.” Giants President & CEO John Mara, a member of the competition committee, said that he would “expect some resistance to possible changes when they are brought to the attention of coaches and scouts.” Former Colts Vice Chair Bill Polian said, “This has grown to a football trade show and I understand that. What we have to do is be careful not to lose the player personnel evaluation purpose of this.” Battista notes the transformation of the combine “is part of the NFL’s larger plan to give fans greater access to information and, not coincidentally, to colonize more parts of the calendar for a league with the shortest playing season.” NFL Network is providing television coverage of the combine, and 600 fans Sunday “will watch combine workouts, a small rollout designed to make coaches and scouts comfortable with their presence.” They will be “kept far from team officials who will be scrutinizing players, but Grubman said that the number of fans will almost surely grow in the next few years, as long as this year’s experiment is successful” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/24).
The family of late former NFLer Dave Duerson is suing the league, "blaming the organization for his 2011 suicide," according to Lisa Donovan of the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. The suit against the NFL and helmet-maker Riddell, Inc. "accuses the NFL of knowing the harmful effects of the repeated concussions Duerson suffered on the field but concealing them from the career safety -- during his football career and even after, leading to a mental health spiral, and eventually, his suicide." The suit also "criticizes the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee -- an advisory group formed in 1994 -- for allegedly misleading players and retirees about the long-term health effects of concussions." The suit states the NFL "embarked upon a propaganda scheme designed to mislead NFL players and retirees" about the long-term effects of concussions and other brain trauma (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/24). In Chicago, Todd Lighty notes the suit "identifies six other former players who reportedly suffered brain damage from playing football and later committed suicide" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/24). The NFL in a statement said, "We have not seen the lawsuit and therefore our attorneys have not had an opportunity to review it. Dave Duerson was an outstanding football player and citizen who made so many positive contributions but unfortunately encountered serious personal challenges later in his life. We sympathize with the Duerson family and continue to be saddened by this tragedy" (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
PART OF A BIGGER ISSUE: In Chicago, Dan Pompei writes, "No matter how this suit is settled, it is part of something bigger that is happening to the NFL." The same "violent collisions that made the NFL grow into" a $9.5B business "could one day force the league to shrivel." It seems the "bigger and stronger players get, the smaller and more vulnerable the league might become." A source said that "not counting Duerson's family, there are currently 657 retired players suing the league for concussion-related issues." A federal judge in Philadelphia had "consolidated the 657 complaints into 18 lawsuits." Pompei writes of the 657 cases, "You can bet none are anywhere near as strong as Duerson's." The difference in Duerson's case is that his was the "only brain that was studied and found to have advanced brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/24).
In a Q&A with USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt, NBA Commissioner David Stern discussed what input he will have in naming his successor and the biggest challenge the eventual new commissioner will face.
Q: What input will you have in the hiring of your successor?
Stern: I don't expect to have any input. It's an owners' league. I have an extraordinarily talented deputy (Adam Silver). But ultimately the question is for the owners to decide.
Q: Do you want Adam to get the job?
Stern: I think he's an extraordinary executive who's been with me for 20 years. But this is an owners' league, and that's their decision to make.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for your successor?
Stern: The challenge is how to take advantage. We've always had a pretty good relationship with our players. And the challenge is, coming out of a lockout, to continue to rebuild that, which I think is well underway. And the challenge is working together to grow every aspect of our business and how to manage that growth (USA TODAY, 2/24).
NO CHANGES NEEDED: Stern said that "no major alterations are necessary" for the NBA's All-Star Game. He said, "Our players aren't motivated at this weekend by the prizes. What they are motivated by is the opportunity to demonstrate their vast array of skills, and they understand that this is really just a combined celebration of our sport." In Orlando, Josh Robbins notes while "some basketball purists would like to see the annual exhibition take on a more serious tone," Stern said that he "believes All-Star weekend has found just the right mix of events, which include a community service day, Saturday night's dunk contest and even a Sunday brunch for the league's legends" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/24).
COME BACK SOON: Orlando last hosted the All-Star Game 20 years ago, and Stern said that he "does not expect Orlando to wait another two decades to host the event again." He said, "I think Orlando is going to be in a mix given its hotel stock, given the convention center, given the brand-new and spectacular Amway Center. I just think that's the way it's going to unfold: in a positive way for Orlando. A far shorter period of time than 20 years will separate this game from the next one here." Stern added that Boston, Brooklyn, Dallas, L.A., New Orleans and N.Y. "could be in the mix in future years" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/24).
With N.Y. "not exactly ready for MLS," Orlando has been thrust "toward the front of the race" to land the league's next expansion franchise, according to Brian Straus of SPORTING NEWS. MLS Commissioner Don Garber will meet on March 1 with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, city leaders and fans of USL Pro club Orlando City, which "has every intention of transitioning from minor to major league.” Garber said, “While New York City remains the League’s focus for our 20th club, it’s important to continue evaluating future options as we continue to grow the league.” Garber's visit will include “a ‘town hall’ style interaction with fans at an Orlando restaurant.” The trip will “coincide with the third Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic, a preseason tournament that will feature City, six MLS clubs and Sweden’s BK Häcken and run Feb. 24-March 3.” The key to Orlando’s bid “will, of course, be a stadium.” Paying the expansion fee, which “will top the $40 million paid by Montreal, won’t be a problem." And "additional investors are waiting in the wings if progress is made.” Orlando City Owner & President Phil Rawlins “already has been exploring a permanent, soccer-specific stadium solution for his club” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 2/22). Garber said, "We need to be in Florida at some point" (SOCCERBYIVES.net, 2/23).