The Classical staff contains an unusually large percentage of people who enjoy watching regular season NBA basketball, but that doesn't mean we don't understand how most people feel about sports in February, and why most people feel that way. Between the Super Bowl and March Madness/Spring Training stretches a blasted heath of whatever, where double-overtime 52-48 Big Ten basketball games and Pacers/Bucks home-and-homes do battle for the attention spans of people who are, for some very understandable reasons, probably going to flip over to Storage Wars pretty soon. Ordinarily, at least, that's the case.
But this February has been hilariously and unusually eventful, with Jeremy Lin's alchemical ability to turn regular-season Knicks games into must-watch events foremost among many implausibilities. What is ordinarily a difficult time to do the Daily Fix, the sports-roundup blog-column that comprises part of my Frankenstein-ian non-Classical work life, has instead been a layup line, with nary a yawn-y NBA All-Star Game fulminating (well, not at WSJ, at least) or half-informed Daytona 500 preview in sight. But the news cycle's most recent gift, Ryan Braun's overturned PED suspension, offered a different and more complicated kind of buzz. This was the sort of feeling that can only be obtained by mainlining sports columnist dudgeon, and I put a lot of that into my bloodstream this morning while writing today's Fix.
There is, of course, a lot of disingenuousness involved in this particular affair and how it's being talked about, and I'm not fully averse to including under that heading Braun talking about being "cleared" by a 2-1 arbitration ruling that hinged not on the relative dirtiness of his sample, but that sample's handling. There is, though, something more unconvincing and unappealing about grown-ass adults, as well as New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, either grousing their distaste at the result—"If you want to think justice was served, have at it," Lupica writes—or otherwise getting real fretful about the whole thing and What It All Means. We're all entitled to feel all the feelings we want, of course, and while I don't think much of the adults rending their garments over a notional offense to a game's (frankly pompous) sense of honor, the right to Hulk out with shame/rage is certainly their right.
That right extends, too, to armchair tough guys like the author of the current winner in SB Nation's Worst Ryan Braun Column sweepstakes. This is some law-and-order doofus writing at birther gong show/website Newsmax, and he feels that the punishment—like, as a general rule, not just here but in all cases in which people are punished—was insufficiently strong in the first place, and who demands another helping of punitive "justice," exonerating evidence or process be-fucked. Buford Pusser Junior has his rights, too, and while I definitely don't want to meet that author, and I certianly hope he forgets to vote, but by all means, feel your feelings.
But the bigger point, and the greater and grosser disingenuity, relates to a fully true thing that Braun said in his presser this afternoon: that, per Major League Baseball's drug-testing regime, "you’re 100 per cent guilty until proven innocent." This process was collectively bargained, between the MLBPA and the league itself, and is jointly administered by the two, but it has never pretended to be anything but a conviction-generating mechanism, and thus was somewhat disingenuous at its very moment of creation. A justice system designed to deliver only one result—the same one, every time, in every case—is not a justice system, or at least not a just one.
Braun, remarkably, was the first player to successfully challenge a suspension in the entire life of the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, which has been in place since August of 2002. How he won his reversal matters less, in that context, than the fact that he won it at all. The latter, too, is incalculably more worthy of celebrating. Nice as it will be to see Braun play baseball again—I'm fairly libertarian with regards to what other adults put into their bodies, and my feelings on Braun as a baseball fan are aptly and economically summed up here by Ted Berg—it's also especially nice to be shown that the system works, or works as something other than a punishment-delivery and willful-ignorance-enhancement mechanism.
The portion of the sport-pundit sanctimonosphere that decries this as a failure of the system simply because the unexpected result makes them uncomfortable are, to me, infinitely more contemptible than any of the wounded weepy columnist-types, who are after all just sad dads writing about baseball in the familiar sad-dad mode. The former are outraged by the failure of a system that, because it was designed only and always to deliver convictions, was born manifestly failed. I care less about PEDs than you might—I might care more, too, in that I do think they're unfair and ugly—but perhaps we can agree on one simple point that's outside the immediate PED debate.
Let's agree that those angered by a result reached as a result of a collectively bargained due process running its due course—and angry about that result because it delivered an insufficiently "tough" outcome—are not nearly as tough-minded as they fancy themselves to be. Let's agree, too, that there's nothing tough-minded or bravely uncompromising or even terribly grown-up about living in a fantasy of perfect justice. I don't like grown-ups having to submit to the indignity of drug tests, at Wal-Mart or in the Brewers clubhouse or in general. But I am sicker still of lectures from—let alone being governed by—self-styled tough guys whose idea of justice is just whatever makes them most comfortable.