By any measure, Ryan Braun is a special kind of baseball player: lifetime batting average of .312, five times an All-Star, an NL MVP award in 2011 and the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2007. As a young Jewish athlete in the 1970s, I grew up with a paucity of Jewish athletic heroes. I am certain, were I a young Jewish ballplayer today, Braun would be my hero. Braun puts to rest the idea that Jewish sports stars need only a brief leaflet (from Airplane) to justify their status.
Ryan Braun is a drug cheat.
On July 22, Braun agreed to serve a season-ending 65 game suspension for his participation in the Biogenesis PED affair. Braun’s not only a cheater, but a liar, too. In 2011, he tested positive but got off when his legal team demonstrated that his sample was “mishandled.” Here’s what he said then:
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.*
A denial straight out of the Lance Armstrong handbook. We all know how that worked for Lance.
Growing up a sports-minded kid, the worst thing anyone could be called in our neighborhood was a cheater.
“THAT’S NOT FAIR!”
“THAT’S AGAINST the RULES!”
If you did cheat, you would be shunned for a few days. If you were a serial cheater, or you cheated when the game was on the line, you were a pariah. Good luck getting picked. No one liked being associated with a cheater. We all liked winning, but if you won because someone cheated, the wind came out of the sails.
“All right! We won today’s game.”
“You won because you had Johnson on your team. He always cheats.”
“Yup. That’s true. Johnson’s a cheater.”
Dads, what do we do? Our kids need heroes. Heroes are important to young kids. But heroes are just humans with an extraordinary skill, blown up a bit too big.
Heroes do dumb stuff.
Heroes make bad choices.
Heroes are human.
When Aaron was younger, I was lucky. The hero he chose was Roger Federer. R-Fed kept it clean on the court. He dressed well. He behaved. I am certain that Roger knew he was incredibly gifted as an athlete but very much a normal guy off the court.
I never had to explain to a teary-eyed 8 year old that his hero would be going to jail because he beat his wife half to death, or that his hero’s season was over because he cheated so badly, he was going to “time-out” for a season.
How do we explain that heroes screw up?
Did you have a sports hero growing up? Was he more Gretzky or (the late) Bob Probert; Ken Griffey, Jr or Daryl Strawberry? If he was a Strawberry or Probie, how’d your Dad handle all those drug and alcohol and behavioral issues?
What’s your plan, Dads? Remember, we’re all in this together.
*Ryan Braun suspended for the rest of 2013 by MLB, Mike Oz, Yahoo Sports, http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/ryan-braun-suspended-rest-2013-mlb-apologizes-admits-214538814.html