You see it every time a player is caught using PEDs. People write columns, and people tweet, that it doesn't matter, that they don't care.
Those people are entitled to their opinions, of course. I'm here to tell you why I think Ryan Braun's suspension does matter, and matters a lot. Yahoo's Jeff Passan sums up my feelings on the matter here:
Though no Brewers player expressed as much publicly after Monday's game, their private disappointment dovetails with the sort of embarrassment anyone lied to feels. In their midst is someone who asked for their trust when it wasn't warranted. Across baseball, Braun's suspension was celebrated because there has been a monumental shift among clean players and in front offices, one reflected bravely by MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner: We should not defend those who do not respect the game, those who have no honor, integrity, class, dignity or professionalism.
That's exactly it; those words describe exactly the opposite of what Ryan Braun has done; he not only used PEDs and got caught, but lied about it, and then continued to do it after all of that happened. ESPN's Buster Olney said essentially the same thing. Olney's colum is behind a paywall; it's worth reading in its entirety, but I'll post two of the most relevant portions:
The names of the players involved are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. What is significant is what an incident like this now signifies: PED cheaters have become pariahs, and increasingly regarded as thieves among the brethren, because they are stealing jobs and money that rightfully belong to others. A PED cheater is now viewed by the MLBPA something like the college kid who pilfers stuff from the rooms of others in his dormitory.
But all along -- back to the first evidence of steroid use -- it is the players’ union that has wielded the ultimate power on this issue, because no drug testing nor changes to the agreement could have happened without its ascent. For years, the silent majority was more likely to complain individually and privately to sports writers about the rise of steroids than to stand up and say something in a union meeting, but now they are loud and angry, and they’ll drill a guy with a fastball if that’s what it takes. This is why Braun will never regain his reputation with other players. He lied to them, and he cheated them -- and incredibly, he kept lying and kept cheating even after getting caught, with the positive test in the fall of 2011.
And if you think it still doesn't matter, please read this remarkable collection of quotes from players put together by Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy (it includes a quote from the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano and manager Dale Sveum, who knows Braun well from his time as a Brewers coach and interim manager).
Two of those quotes, in particular, caught my eye. First, from Diamondbacks infielder Willie Bloomquist:
"I got a chance to play with Ryan on the USA team and he’s a good dude, a really good guy. But having said that, it’s disappointing. We as players have done the best job we can to clean up the game and rid it of all this sort of thing. Everyone knows the consequences and penalties for it and yet there’s some people that seem like they can sneak by the system without getting caught and what it does is it cheats everybody else. It cheats the game, it cheats the fans it cheats the players they’re playing against."
And from D'backs reliever Brad Ziegler:
"It’s frustrating that guys are still trying to beat the system, but it’s also frustrating that he’s essentially accepting responsibility for it now which means that everything he said back at the beginning of 2012 was a lie. You never want to see that out of anybody let alone a fellow ballplayer. It’s frustrating that guys are still trying to beat the system, but the lying and the denials are more the issue for me just from a human being’s perspective."
These two clearly are not the only players who feel this way -- in fact, you can read more similar reaction from other players here, including this:
"Watching him talk right now makes me sick," Skip Schumaker of the Los Angeles Dodgers said. "I have an autographed Braun jersey in my baseball room that I'll be taking down. I don't want my son identifying what I've worked so hard to get to and work so hard to have - I don't want him comparing Braun to me."
Will Brewers fans who have similar memorabilia do the same? There's a good argument, from a major-league player, that they should. Some have called Braun the Lance Armstrong of baseball; there's a comparison to be made with Armstrong about the lies Braun told, though Braun never attempted the other things Armstrong did, such as trying to bully or ruin the lives of his teammates and colleagues.
Those players who have not cheated, not lied, who have played the game clean and "the right way" (as Ryne Sandberg put it in his Hall of Fame induction speech), want the game cleaned up, so there's a level playing field, so that their competitors are truthful and honest and play the game with their own natural abilities. If the players want it, why shouldn't the rest of us want that? CBS Sports' Danny Knobler sums it up:
The truth is on our side now, and the truth is that Ryan Braun is never going to gain back our trust and respect. The truth is that Ryan Braun badly harmed the game he claims to love so dearly, first by trying to cheat to get ahead and then with the loud and obnoxious denials. Baseball does care about cleaning up the game. The players union cares, too, because many of its members now care.
From the beginning of sports, players have always sought a way to get an edge on their competitors. That's just human nature, and the competitive nature of professional athletes. They've stolen signs, scuffed baseballs, popped greenies and taken PEDs. Some of those things are within the rules, some of them bend the rules, some of them are against the rules of the game or even against the law.
An edge is one thing. Cheating and lying about cheating is another. Sure, Ryan Braun will return to baseball next season, but he will be scorned by many of his opponents, looked at suspiciously by his teammates and booed mercilessly when he plays on the road. Braun made his choices; now he will have to pay for them. He's not the last to have this penalty, either; it seems likely that Alex Rodriguez will also serve a suspension, possibly even longer than Braun's, and, according to that link, perhaps 15 others will also be suspended.
It's the right thing to do. The players want it. Their union leadership has agreed. Baseball is cleaning itself up, and I would argue that we're all better off for it; we'll see games and competitions between athletes using their own natural abilities, honed by hard work. Will these players seek another edge? Of course they will; again, that's just human nature. We can only hope that they'll do so within the rules of the game, so that their opponents, and we, the paying customers, won't be cheated and lied to.
That's the important thing, not that someone hit 73 home runs while supposedly hopped up on some concoction out of a lab. Give us an honest show, honest work, and honest performance. That's all we can ask for.