As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect.
-- Ryan Braun
Well, I might be speaking only for myself here, but I'm glad that's cleared up. Of all the revelations arising from Ryan Braun's season-ending PED suspension, the news that Braun is not a faultless messiah might have been the most underplayed.
Apparently there was doubt in some circles.
Seriously, who talks like that? What level of narcissism is possible to allow those words to be attached to your name? What sentient being, in an attempt to either explain or apologize, would even consider putting those words together?
Braun is just another in a long line of athletes who don't know how to apologize. It's an epidemic, an absolute plague across the land. Why are those two words -- I'm sorry -- so damned hard?
Braun doesn't have to apologize individually to everyone from his mom to the 2011 Diamondbacks. That's not the point. But if he is going to admit to something or another, he should do it with at least a shred of the fortitude that made him a perennial All-Star. In other words, be a man about it.
Through this entire sordid ordeal, the only time Braun showed any conviction was when he was lying. Oh, then he was a big man, firing accusations loudly and indiscriminately, standing behind a microphone in a smug and arrogant manner, coyly savaging the reputation of a guy who collects urine for a living.
The indignation, it turns out, was borderline sociopathic.
And now? A non-apology apology that renounces sainthood first and makes mention of the "toll" this situation -- self-induced, we might add -- has taken on him and his family.
He appears to be far less eager to stand before a microphone now.
His statement included this sentence: "I realize now that I have made some mistakes." Now? Now? He didn't realize taking PEDs was a mistake until Miami New Times -- and not the MLB drug policy, let's be clear -- outed him as a liar and a cheat?
To borrow the parlance of televised debate, is anyone buying Braun anymore now than they did before?
Like so many before him, Braun believed the louder he denied and the more forcefully he condemned the system, the more credible he would become. And like so many before him, he found himself hoisted on his own words. The circumstances of his downfall -- being exposed after beating the system in a way most people saw as backhanded -- opened the faucets of sanctimony across the land.
Let's say this: The rush to paint Braun as the biggest and baddest cheater is over the top. He's not the first, and he's not the worst. The idea that he will never be able to overcome this, that his reputation is shattered inside and outside the game, is as predictable as it is reactionary. Jason Giambi, to name one, gave a vague non-apology in similar circumstances, but he did it with some savvy and the implicit understanding that he was saying all that he could say. His reputation was sullied to the point where he's still playing -- kept around mostly for his influence on younger players -- and the Rockies considered making him their manager.
Pariah? Barry Bonds still walks the aisles of AT&T Park to the sweet strains of fan adulation.
But Braun displayed a special, Lance Armstrong-level arrogance. He played everyone for a fool and almost made it work. He even had a somewhat plausible answer for his name appearing in the Biogenesis logs. He paid Tony Bosch to be a consultant in his fight against MLB. Of course he did, because every $20 million a year player hires a strip-mall steroid dealer to fight the drug policy of a multibillion dollar corporation.
Last spring, with Braun's temporary acquittal still a fresh topic, I attempted to interview him. Every question about the situation, every single one, was answered with a hard, daring stare and one word: Irrelevant. The reaction of fans was irrelevant. The stain on his reputation was irrelevant. The perception that he beat a positive test on a technicality was irrelevant. He was a wall, impenetrable. The strategy, in a distorted way, was genius. Irrelevant cut off all possible follow-ups. The defiance, like the arrogance, was absolute, vicious and thorough.
Maybe we should all take a moment to proactively and hypothetically extend some sympathy to the first athlete who is wrongly accused of PED use. We don't believe any of them, because history shows us we shouldn't. Who among the accused has been proven not guilty? Armstrong denied and denied, as did Floyd Landis, as did Alex Rodriguez, as did Rafael Palmeiro, as did Ryan Braun.
Braun's statement also included this jaw-dropping line: "I am glad to have this matter behind me."
That's a pleasant thought, Ryan, but we'll be the judge of that.
Some might allow you to put it behind you. Others won't.
And those who won't? Well, you know what all of the little people say. Sorry about that.