Ryan Braun And Me
As a kid Ryan Braun also loved baseball, and the only thing he was better at than baseball was schoolwork.
When I was eleven years old I spent my first summer away from home at a Zionist overnight camp in Wisconsin. I spent all or part of nine of the next ten summers at a Jewish camp in Wisconsin.
Ryan Braun’s father grew up in Israel after most of his family died in the Holocaust. His mother is Catholic, and he spent his summers playing baseball instead of attending Jewish camp. But Braun still identifies as a Jew, saying he’s, “extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids.”
After working hard in high school I was accepted to New York University’s Sports Management undergraduate program. I had given up on playing baseball for a living, but I could still make a living in the baseball industry.
After high school Ryan Braun was offered baseball scholarships from universities across the country, but he chose to attend the University of Miami on an academic scholarship rather than an athletic one. He continued to play baseball at a high level.
After college I moved back to Minneapolis. I don’t work in baseball. Instead I work in the field I devoted all those Wisconsin summers to: Judaism.
After college Ryan Braun relocated to Wisconsin to also turn his summer experiences into a profession. The Milwaukee Brewers made him the fifth player picked in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft.
I once cheated on test in high school, got caught, but weaseled my way out of it. I then cheated once again in college.
Ryan Braun cheated at baseball by taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), got caught, but weaseled his way out. Then he took them again.
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”
Like Ryan Braun I have always been a giant baseball fan. Unlike Braun, I did not have one of the best rookie seasons in baseball history. I don’t know what it’s like to be a superstar athlete. I do know what it’s like to cheat in order to maintain that perfect image you have of yourself. It’s terrifying, it’s lonely, and it’s sad.
Braun first tested positive for PEDs in October 2011. He managed to avoid suspension and a forever tarnished image by successfully arguing in front of an arbitrator that the test collector, Dino Laurenzi Jr., mishandled the sample. There was, is, and always has been little evidence to support this claim.
“There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.”
When I was little, my parents would often take me to children’s services at our synagogue. The rabbi would always tell a simple story during the service that illustrated an important lesson from the Torah. My favorite was about the woman who told a bunch of lies and wanted to take them back. She asked her rabbi how she could gain forgiveness for the hurt she inflicted. The rabbi told her to go up to her roof, cut open a pillow, and release the feathers into the wind. After doing so she went back to the rabbi. He told her all she had to do now was to pick up every feather that blew away. “Impossible!” she said. To which the rabbi replied, “It is just as impossible to take back the lies you spread with your words.”
“This situation has caused great emotional distress for me and my family.”
After Braun defended his own integrity and professionalism by insulting another’s, Laurenzi Jr. was forced to defend himself, his family, and his own professionalism against millions of critics.
“This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family.”
After Braun was suspended last week, he said how hard this whole process has been for his family and voiced a desire to put this all behind him. He has yet to publicly acknowledge Laurenzi Jr. by name or issue any sort of apology.
Twenty years ago, if the stories are to be believed, a majority of baseball players were using PEDs while administration looked the other way. Ten years ago, after congressional inquiries, a new generation of baseball players were coming up through a system defined by stricter drug testing and harsher punishments for drug users. Today most PED users are seen as cheaters by their peers, robbing clean players of bigger paychecks and giving the rest a bad reputation by association. This will likely be what Braun faces when he rejoins the Brewers’ lineup in 2014.
But I’m not one of his peers. My issue with Ryan Braun has nothing to do with him cheating. My issue stems from the values I learned during my own summers in Wisconsin.
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” he said. But we never asked him to be perfect, or even to be fair. (It’s not fair that for two smart Jewish kids who both loved baseball, one was blessed with abundant talent and the other wasn’t.) We never even asked him to be a role model for Jewish kids. Catholic mother, no Bar Mitzvah—Sandy Koufax he isn’t. We did ask him, like we ask everyone we believe in, not to lie to us. He’ll never be able to pick up all those feathers he lost, but if, as I did, he owns up to his cheating and tries to fix things, he may just stumble into another Jewish value we can all respect: tikkun olam.