Who’s to blame for Ryan Braun?

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Students who sit through my drug free workplace classes hear about my first job after I got out of “real” school twenty-two years ago.  My job? Drug screen collector.  That’s right, I was the girl that stood there with latex gloves pouring your urine into two bottles, sealing it and sending it away to the lab for testing.  It wasn’t a glamorous gig but it paid the bills and it led me into the other areas of occupational health and safety that pay my bills today.

While I am no longer a collector, I still teach the ins and outs of drug and alcohol testing in my classes.  It’s my feeling that people that are required to test should know the process that they will experience and understand that it isn’t something that is done to annoy them. There are reasons that the water in the toilet is blue and the specimen is split into two bottles and sealed before it’s sent to the lab. It is that 20 years of experience in the real live world of drug and alcohol testing that causes me to get pissed when I see the media leading baseball fans blindly down the path of misinformation with calls for apologies to the collector that handled Ryan Braun’s 2011 drug test.

You’ll remember Braun as the first Major League Baseball player to successfully challenge a positive drug screen. In short, Braun was able to call into question the integrity of the test because it was found that the collector did not follow chain of custody procedure in the collection of that test. The 2011 test was thrown out and we all moved on, or so we thought.

Fast-forward to yesterday’s announcement that Braun has accepted a 65 game suspension for his part in the Biogenesis mess that has been going down for the last few months. Braun later released a statement accepting all responsibility.  As expected, reaction to Braun’s suspension was swift and sometimes crazy. Twitter was ablaze with all kinds of opinions and it is that one opinion that was tweeted over and over is the subject of my rant today:

Let me first mention that Olney was not the only one with this opinion but he did respond to me when I said that writers don’t understand the technicalities of drug and alcohol testing:

Olney’s right.  Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program is an agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Player’s Association that lists all of the drugs that players cannot use.  The agreement also talks about the procedures that are followed to ensure that a test is collected, tested and reported properly. Many people, fans and media included, like saying that Braun got off on a technicality in the 2011 test.

Did he?

No.

It’s not a technicality; it’s a failure to follow proper protocol. In short, a Chain of Custody procedure is followed to ensure that the specimen that is given by the donor is the same specimen that arrives at the laboratory for testing without evidence of tampering.  In other words, there has to be no question that the specimen wasn’t switched out with a clean sample when nobody was looking.  Extreme?  Not at all.  In 20 plus years of working in this field, I’ve experienced some crazy things that people attempt in order to cover up the actual test, but that’s a whole other blog post that doesn’t belong on More Than a Fan.  Chain of Custody is put in place for one reason: to protect the integrity of the specimen and protect the donor from being tagged with a result that isn’t his.  It is the same protection you receive when you do your drug test for your job.  Don’t like the result, challenge the drug test. You can do that.

Which brings me back to Olney’s opinion that the collector, Dino Laurenzi, is owed an apology.  Nobody owes the collector an apology or, as others have suggested, compensation. This is very black and white:  Had Laurenzi collected the specimen following chain of custody protocol, Braun would not have had any legal argument about the validity of the test in question.  Braun would not have been able to convince a mediator that the procedure was flawed therefore calling into question the integrity of the test.  The mediator would have found that Braun’s argument had no merit and Braun would have been disciplined to the tune of a 50 game suspension to start off the 2012 baseball season.  It is that cut and dry.

Had the collector done the job and followed procedure, Braun would have been disciplined and this would have been over.  Would Braun be involved with the Biogenesis mess that we are all watching now? I don’t know.  As evidenced by Manny Ramirez, some people don’t learn and I have opinions about the strength of the drug testing program in MLB.  But, again, that’s another conversation.

Nobody ever said that Braun wasn’t positive in 2011. He won because he was able to cast doubt on the integrity of the specimen.  It isn’t a technicality, it’s a basic procedure that Laurenzi should have followed in order to protect both Braun and Major League Baseball.

Laurenzi didn’t.

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17 comments
Marcus
Marcus

Wow, reading the comment section of this article is as intriguing as the article itself. I had a solid point that I wanted to post but after reading 15 comments my thought process is fried.

emh
emh

I feel embarrassed that this article was written by a fellow Indians fan. Sorry Lisa but next time do some homework before you write an article. The truth is that Dino did follow proper procedure and MLB defended his actions, saying that they were consistent with MLB procedures. Quoting MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred: “The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun’s case acted in a professional and appropriate manner,” Manfred said in the statement. “He handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The Arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs – including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.” You also miss another extremely important point....although Braun won his appeal due to the chain of custody issue, his comments suggested that Mr. Laurenzi deliberately tampered with the sample. Regardless of anything else, that's why he's owed an apology. You should also read Jeff Passan's article about the letter that Braun's people sent to Jeff and other reports suggesting that Mr. Laurenzi tampered with the sample. I hope you have the integrity to issue an retraction of this article.

Ryan
Ryan

A great perspective and finally someone who understands that the test is invalid if the protocol is not followed!

SirHandel
SirHandel

Her years of work in the field notwithstanding, I'm not so sure she's hit the salient issues here. As with most things in life, the answer can be found within the rule of law, in this case MLB's rule of law. Delivering samples under custody to the laboratory, regardless of the field or media of the sample, is specified within any given standard operating procedure. As I recall, the SOP outlined by MLB allowed several days prior to initial extraction at the laboratory. In the interim, the requirements were that the samples were to remain in the possession of the individual designated on the chain of custody and at a temperature of about 4 degrees Celcius (not coincidentally, the temperature of liquids on ice or in a standard food refrigerator), with the RECOMMENDATION that the samples be delivered to the laboratory as rapidly as possible after collection. A requirement is far different from a recommendation. Non-compliance with a requirement is a violation of a rule and grounds for rejection of the analytical results; non-compliance with a recommendation does no such thing (if it were that important, a recommendation would be a requirement). But that's all beside the point. Another aspect of the MLB testing program at the time permitted either party to request binding arbitration through a designated third party, something we all know Braun utilized. The arbitrator ruled Braun's complaint had merit, and overturned the result. Although I believe this was a technically flawed decision because the SOP did not explicitly prohibit holding the samples as the collector did and in fact specified a holding time that had not been exceeded, it was one reasonable outcome since the process also allowed for the case to be arbitrated by a non-techincal individual. In other words, the decision was techincally wrong but legally reasonable.

oh Hal
oh Hal

None of the holier than thou crowd mention that MLB fired the collector. I'm not sure how that could be Braun's fault. Much isn't known about what happened to the sample either. Laurenzi worked 4 jobs. The sample wasn't shipped until Monday afternoon. Not only did it sit at an unknown temperature for a weekend, but it could have been exposed to higher temperatures if it was taken to one or more of those jobs and was left in the car. None of the crack investigative reporters even attempted to discover that.

Ed Carroll
Ed Carroll

This is excellent work. Thanks for the insight.

Damien Bowman
Damien Bowman

If someone collected a sample from me and I had to go through an entire process to clear my name, or at least overturn a suspension, and I was found not guilty I wouldn't necessarily have awesome things to say about the collector either. That doesn't mean that in a subsequent failed test that the previous collector is exonerated, it simply means the next tester did a better job. A better job either through being more competent or because policies and procedures changed to improve the process. In either instance, Braun does not owe an apology to someone he said something mean to. Separately but related: If you're arrested and later the charges are dismissed or you're found guilty the policy will not typically apologize to you. Damien Bowman Managing Editor, More Than a Fan

oh Hal
oh Hal

You think they'd let collectors keep samples for "several" days, refrigerate them sometimes, and do it at a temperature of 4 degrees? The OTL has a history of playing fast and loose with the rules, but they wouldn't put that kind of vagueness into an agreement. Its ironic that you use the idea that a sophisticated test can be popped into a frig with old pizza and cans of Bud, but despite false reporting, it was later revealed that it was kept on a desk in a basement. Real labs log storage temps. It'd be interesting to know where it was during the day Monday. Given that he worked multiple jobs, I'd guess it was in his car. You also ought to look into Das's reputation before claiming he lacked understanding.

emh
emh

Lie much Oh Hal??? I'm sure your parents must be really proud of you! 1) MLB did not fire the collector. He worked for an independent organization named Comprehensive Drug Testing. In fact MLB defended the actions of the collector. 2) He did NOT work 4 jobs. He did (and maybe still does) have a full time job as director of rehab at a health care facility. That's it. 3) The sample was stored in a cooler in his basement. Whether or not that cooler was on a desk is 100% irrelevant. I'd go on but like Ryan Braun you're not worth more of my time. Bye, bye.

Not-So-Brawn
Not-So-Brawn

So high temps can make PEDs magically appear in otherwise clean results? Or did he tamper with his sample? Why was only Brauns sample the only one to come back positive for PEDs while the other two players who had their samples taken at the same time, why didnt those results come back positive as well?

SirHandel
SirHandel

To be clear on something, I don't know the quantitative outcome of an elevated temperature for the compounds of interest in Braun's test. Temperature specifications are placed on samples because the vast majority of analytes for most every media begin to DEGRADE over time, providing biased low results. That is, what comes out of the mass spectrometer is less than it actually exists in the media from which it was collected. A select few, however, can degrade into another analyte, causing a biased high result. Yet others, depending on the analytical method, could be based on the ratio of compounds present, so degredation of one compound that isn't of interest could lead to a biased high reading of the targeted compound. The sheer absence of this discussion from knowledgable people during this saga suggests that it isn't the case, although it would be nice to be able to confirim that.

SirHandel
SirHandel

I don't need to guess. The reference to "4 degrees Celcius" is another way, in industry parlance, of stating that a sample must be kept "cool" as opposed to frozen. That number and scale isn't pulled out of thin air. It is a way to quantify what is reasonable for both the sample collection personnel and appropriate for the analytical method. The entire process, from soup to nuts, is surely outlined in standard operating procedures agreed to by MLB and the Union. That this would be a mystery to anyone is a mystery to me. So the obvious questions should revolve around whether the actions at any step in the process violate the method, and if so, how those actions impact the results. This technical assessment is the pervue of data validators, who determined the data were usable. Das overruled them based on reasons that aren't technically clear, and won't be further reviewed (that's why they call that form of arbitration "binding"). To circle back to Braun's sample in between collection and delivery to the laboratory - Do you know what happens during the data validation process to the sample result of a sample that was kept above the specified holding temperature (a value that can only be guessed at) or received at the laboratory above that temperature (which the sample custodian semi-qualitatively measures by sticking a temperature probe in the cooler/shipping container)? The validator qualifies the sample as estimated. That is, the result is usable but carries some degree of uncertainty. Even delivery of the sample outside of the holding time wouldn't necessarily lead to a rejection of the sample result. Such a severe consequence is usually reserved for the inability of a process at the laboratory to meet method-specific requirements, such as meeting initial or continuing calibration ranges. Unfortunately, Lisa didn't discuss these more techincal matters in her posting. One more thing on Das: I didn't question his reputation. I separately opined on the technical and legal merits of the case as he ruled on them. If anything, I praised him for following the letter of the law, something we should all seek from people acting as a judge regardless of the outcome of the ruling. I have 20 years of experience collecting and shipping samples under chains of custody in accrdance with SOPs and interpreting the data after validation that I believe I've used here in benefit of people not more familiar with these processes, so I feel quite comfortable critiquing the faulty technical basis Das applied in overturning the ruling and the reluctance of Lisa to bring her experience to bear rather than just use it to establish credibility. This should be about the pursuit of truth, not building a narrative.

oh Hal
oh Hal

You can claim a technical victory by saying that the actual employer who discharged him wasn't MLB. They work for MLB. If you think they didn't fire him for cause, I'm sure he'll be compensated just fine. He had other jobs. And he claimed that he kept it in a cooler. That doesn't include Monday and most importantly, its not a refrigerator. Even some home frig would be a bad, but sticking it on a desk is gross failure. He reportedly was questioned for about 3 hours in the hearing. Don't you think their might be some issues even beyond what we've debated?

Drew
Drew

Based largely on experiments performed by two eminent experts in the field showing that if urine is degraded by bacterial action, a testosterone level increase is possible, the panel held that BAF did not satisfy its burden. It dismissed the charge. The Panel accepted, on the evidence, that there was possibility that the cause of the high testorterone to epistosterone (T/E) ratio in Ms Modahl's urine sample was not the ingeestion by her of testosterone, but urine sample degradation due to unrefrigerated storage by the Portuguese laboratory causing bacterialological action. This designed turned on the fact that BAF had the burden of proof. That appears to close the Modahl case except for her suit for damages against BAF. International sports law and business, Volume 2 By Aaron N. Wise, Bruce S. Meyer (Page 1470) The ketoconazole test was proposed in 1994 for the defense of the UK 800 m champion, Diane Modahl, who was alleged to have abnormally high testosterone level and testosterone:epistestosterone ratio. In this controversial case, bacterial decomposition of the test sample had beed proposed as a cause of the abnormal findings. My colleague, Rob Bilton (1995), has recently suggested that the conversion of urinary steroids to testosterone by urinary bacteria is possible, and has emphasized that all urine samples collected on behalf ot the IOC and affiliated organizations should be frozen immediately to prevent bactgerial degradation. Drugs in sport By PhD David R. Mottram (Page 214)

oh Hal
oh Hal

The tests don't actually measure PEDs. Neither test separated or measured actual PEDs. The answer is yes, if you heat urine, the tests are unreliable. Put 'storage conditions' and 'urine' or 'urinalysis' in a search engine and you'll not only learn that it does, but no lab standard in the world allows what happened and considers the results valid.

oh Hal
oh Hal

Forgive me, but the notion that 4 degrees is the drug collection's slang for "cool" is rather far fetched as is the idea that a standard would be written that allows the number of days that urine can sit at unknown temperatures as "several." And as I said, the sample wasn't refrigerated and may have been exposed to much higher temperatures Saturday, Monday or in transit. You also described the decision as technically flawed while nobody knows what the basis of the decision was other than "sources" saying it was a technicality. Having zero scientific evidence is a technicality. The use of the word has degraded to street slang for a loophole but that isn't accurate. You also refer to "SOP" which is a jargon for the way things are typically done. The requirements are spelled out in the Joint Drug Agreement. It doesn't state terms based on "several" and "cool."