Who's to blame for Ryan Braun?


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?


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.


About Author