When Major League Baseball announced Ryan Braun's season-ending suspension Monday, the first person I thought of was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It was Rodgers, after all, who in December 2011 offered a credible and passionate defense of the person he called his "best athlete friend" after ESPN and other media outlets connected Braun to performance-enhancing drugs.
Rodgers, of course, didn't just offer his support. He said on an ESPN 540 radio show that he trusted that Braun "has not been using anything that's illegal" and added, "I'm very confident that that is the case."
And when an arbitrator overturned Braun's 50-game suspension in February 2012, citing irregularities in the collection of his urine sample, Rodgers jumped into overdrive. He didn't just rejoice. He crowed, rubbed it in the face of those who were presumably wrong and, for one of the rare times in his public life, he gloated.
He was so certain, in fact, that when a Twitter follower then asked whether Rodgers really believed Braun was clean, Rodgers responded that he would "put up my salary" on his conviction.
Read the tweets below to get a sense of Rodgers' glee at the time. He wasn't just glad that Braun's reputation appeared restored. He was thrilled that Braun's accusers looked bad. If I didn't see that familiar @AaronRodgers12 handle, I would have bet my salary -- which falls just short of the $8.5 million Rodgers earned in 2012 -- that it was someone else.
Rodgers has made news in his career with strong and/or controversial statements, but he has always taken great care to frame his public communication in a civilized and clinical manner. I've called him out for one relatively misguided outburst, but generally speaking, you won't find someone who puts more thought into what he says in public than Rodgers.
I tweeted on the Braun-Rodgers connection in the moments after Monday's announcement and was met with a pretty fierce pushback from Packers/Rodgers/non-baseball fans. @dnjpond tweeted that inserting Rodgers to the Braun story added nothing but "innuendo and agitation." @mcflan5 suggested it is nothing more than that, "Aaron was clearly defending a friend." @stevekass2 wanted me to "stick to football" and stop with the "wild leaps of assumption."
Here's why this is relevant: One of the NFL's top players is on record vehemently defending a now-admitted fraud -- one who happens to be one of baseball's top players -- and gloating over a temporary exoneration that now has no credibility.
The question from here is whether Rodgers has any public responsibility moving forward. Should we all just accept that he was ensnared and duped by a pathological liar posing as a friend? And even if that's the case, does Rodgers still have an obligation to speak as vigorously in acceptance of the new set of facts as he did against the previous ones?
My feeling is that Rodgers is one of hundreds of people whom Braun has put in an impossible spot, a list that includes everyone associated with the Milwaukee Brewers along with his family and friends. Rodgers is now in the same position as friends of Lance Armstrong were: seeking to find a balance between anger, loyalty and embarrassment.
He will be damned if he sits on his original statements, implying he still supports Braun's innocence. On the other hand, he is left with condemning a now-disgraced friend and, in the process, revealing a level of personal pain that he usually avoids. Many of us would like to think we would choose the latter strategy, but sometimes that is easier said than done.
One conclusion I hope we can all agree on is that Rodgers completely and totally believed Braun was innocent. The alternative is too dark and out of character to believe. If Rodgers had actually lied on Braun's behalf, the smart strategy would have been to lie low after the original suspension was overturned. In a weird way, Rodgers' enthusiasm upon hearing that news is the best evidence that he wasn't complicit in the fraud.
So in all likelihood, Rodgers was stung by this news as much as any Brewers fan or Braun family member. Not only did he apparently believe Braun, he also staked his good name -- not to mention his salary -- on it. He is in a terrible spot, partly of his own doing, but in the end, his actions were rooted in loyalty and friendship. Yikes. Some days just make you want to be a hermit.