Column: The real victim in the Ryan Braun saga
March 2, 2012
One thing that’s always struck me about elite athletes is the great sense of entitlement many of them seem to have.
Tiger Woods certainly had it while cavorting around the world and winning majors by the handful, and Barry Bonds displayed it even as his head swelled up along with his home run count.
And then there’s Ryan Braun, whose performance – and, yes, it sure seemed like a performance – before reporters last week in Arizona could be used in future textbooks on the subject. In just a short period of time he reminded everyone that he’s the National League MVP and the guy with the new $105 million contract, and to question what he has to say about anything would be foolish.
He declared himself innocent, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Said the truth was on his side, when there was no evidence of that at all.
Then he threw a poor urine collector under the bus because, well, he was just a poor urine collector and he was the National League MVP and the guy with the megamillion contract.
Well, guess what? The urine collector isn’t going to go easy.
Dino Laurenzi Jr. has never been paid a penny to hit a baseball. Dozens of fans don’t line up to get his autograph every time he comes out of a big league locker room toting yet another cardboard specimen box with tamper resistant seals. It’s something he’s done hundreds of times before.
But he’s got a reputation to protect, too. A family that, like Braun’s, is proud of what he does. A career as a former teacher and athletic trainer and, currently, the director of rehabilitation services at a health care facility.
To infer, as Braun did last week, that Laurenzi did something fishy with the urine sample wasn’t just wrong. It was a despicable attempt to divert attention from the sample itself to the collector of the sample. Equally troubling – that it was mentioned when there was no suggestion from anyone, other than Braun, that there was tampering.
And it targeted the wrong guy.
“He’s a straight shooter. Never been in trouble,” his father, Dino Laurenzi Sr., said last week.
Dino Jr. came to his own defense Tuesday, issuing a statement because his only other alternative would be to idly sit by while his reputation was shattered by Braun.
“This situation has caused great emotional distress for me and my family,” Laurenzi said. “I have worked hard my entire life, have performed my job duties with integrity and professionalism, and have done so with respect to this matter and all other collections in which I have participated.”
The rest of the statement detailed how the sample was collected, and what steps were taken to make it secure. Laurenzi said he took samples from three players late on a Saturday afternoon at Miller Park after Milwaukee opened the playoffs last season with a 4-1 win over Arizona, and took them home to his basement rather than leave them unattended at a FedEx drop off location until the following Monday.
The samples arrived at a Montreal lab with all the seals intact, and no evidence that anything was amiss. There was something amiss with Braun’s sample, though – it reportedly showed a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in excess of 20-1, when a ratio in excess of 4-1 triggers a positive test.
If you believe Braun’s protestations of innocence, you have to believe that somehow, some way, someone entered Laurenzi’s basement with some synthetic testosterone, broke the seal on both the box and Braun’s sample to contaminate them before finally rearranging the tamperproof seals in such a way that they didn’t appear to have been tampered with.
If so, you’ll be happy with the basket of candy you’ll be getting in April because it means you believe in the Easter Bunny.
“If he really believed this guy contaminated it, then it’s an assault with a controlled substance,” said Travis Tygart, who heads the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “And with all the retired FBI agents employed as baseball investigators they would be all over it.”
Apparently a lot of Milwaukee fans do believe it. How else do you explain the loud cheers greeting Braun at every turn in Phoenix as he casts himself as the true victim in the case. His buddy, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers, is among the cheerleaders, saying on Twitter that baseball “tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man.”
A plot by baseball? A rogue urine collector? Next thing you know, Braun is going to blame the sausage vendor at Miller Park for selling him a tainted bratwurst.
I can’t say Braun is guilty of juicing because I don’t have the facts. I do know his test wasn’t overturned because of scientific reasons, but because of chain-of-command issues, and that MLB officials are furious about it. I also know that testosterone is easily available to anyone through a couple clicks of the mouse or a doctor’s prescription. It’s common knowledge that increased amounts of testosterone can help sluggers be sluggers, especially toward the end of a season when their bodies are run down.
Here’s one more thing I know: Braun needs to apologize to Laurenzi, and he needs to do it publicly.
Yes, it may undermine the basis of his claim to innocence, but if Braun wants to paint himself as a victim, it’s important for him to understand there’s another victim here, too.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg