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Ryan Braun, Disgraced Jewish Baseball Player?

Ryan Braun, Disgraced Jewish Baseball Player?

Ryan Braun, Jewish sports fans and athletes everywhere salute(d) you. A left-fielder and third baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers, Braun once said,

I am Jewish. I'm extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids. It's something I'm really proud of. But I don't want to make it into something more than what it is. I didn't have a bar mitzvah.... I didn't celebrate the holidays… But I do consider myself definitely Jewish. And I'm extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids.

By every measure, Braun is a special player: Lifetime BA-.312, five time All-Star, NL MVP and Rookie of the Year. Braun puts to rest the idea that Jewish sports stars need only a brief leaflet (from Airplane) to justify their status.

But Braun, the first superstar athlete to go down in Major League baseball’s Biogenesis PED scandal is a member of the tribe, is also a drug cheat. On July 22, he agreed to serve a season-ending 65 game suspension for his participation in the Biogenesis affair.

Sports fans are no longer “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” naïve. Every sports fan knows his or her favorite sport has athletes using illegal performance enhancements. In this past week, a tennis player, a track star, and nearly 20 athletes from the 1998 Tour de France tested positive – and that’s just in sports that I follow. What is truly interesting to me is how Braun’s case will stack up against others. At this point, I have a few questions for my fellow sports fans:

  1. Do you think Braun’s punishment is fair? Do you see a deterrent factor in MLB’s treatment of Ryan Braun?
  2. Braun’s salary for 2013 was around $10,000,000. He was given a 65-game suspension. In other, far less lucrative sports, the penalties for first offenses are much stiffer, up to two full seasons. His ban will cost him 40% of his salary – $4 million. I think most people can live comfortably on $6 million.
  3. In an admission of guilt, Braun chose not to fight his suspension. However, in 2011, he tested positive. The findings were overturned because the drug tester allegedly mishandled Braun’s urine sample. (No humor in that sentence.) At that time, Braun (taking a page from the Book of Lance Armstrong) 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. We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.”

  1. Does Braun’s willingness to accept his punishment increase his standing in your mind?

How will fans (both home and away) react when Braun returns in his Brewers uniform? Why is sporting fraud viewed, by fans, as being different from criminal activity? Sports fans have shown, time and again, that if a player helps his team to win, the fans are willing to overlook any transgression. Recreational drug users, animal abusers, tax cheats, wife beaters, material witnesses to murder – all have been welcomed back to pro sports. Yet, Pete Rose is still banned from baseball for betting on games. It’s also clear that those from the 1990s steroid era (Bonds, McGwire, et al) are not entirely welcome around the halls of the Big Leagues. Sporting fraud, it appears, is viewed in an entirely different light than criminal behavior.

I’m curious to hear from my fellow Jewish sports fans. Do you believe that Ryan Braun’s drug use represents the mainstream of elite athletes in major league baseball? And perhaps more importantly, do you feel that Braun’s cheating portrays Jews in a bad light, or is this a case of “just another cheater in sports” with no religious implications?

David Stanley is a member of Temple Beth El in Flint, MI. He is a teacher, athlete, coach, and cancer survivor blogging about education, cancer, sport, society at DStan58-Rants & Mutters.

Published: 7/30/2013

Categories: Jewish Life, Arts & Culture
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