Ryan Braun never wanted this, that’s for sure.
No, not being an embattled former Most Valuable Player fending off the slings and arrows of media, fans, (perhaps other players) and Major League Baseball. He surely didn’t want that. But he’s also become a case study in journalism, and has shined a light on our industry and how we as journalists go about our business in reporting what is supposed to be confidential information.
First let me say this: this is just baseball, a game, and we’re talking about performance enhancing drugs. True, real people and their lives are being affected, but this isn’t really important, like watch-dogging the government or Wall Street. But, a lot of people care about this (more than there should be, honestly), which is why it’s such huge news. And, it’s why some excellent journalists are working every day to break the latest on Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis drug lab.
A lot of people in Milwaukee have issues with this case. They feel the league is on a witch hunt, specifically targeting Braun for becoming the first player (that we know of) to win an appeal to overturn a suspension. They feel he’s been unfairly outed by the initial leak of his positive test, saying he was denied the confidentiality afforded other players during the process.
The first part probably isn’t true. Was Major League Baseball irritated that it lost an appeal? Of course – the arbitrator was summarily fired and test collecting procedures were changed. But are they going after one player? No. It just so happens that this one player’s name is listed in documents, along with many others, in an illegal lab that many believe supplied performance enhancing drugs to athletes.
The second part is true. Braun was owed confidentiality, per the collective bargaining agreement. It doesn’t matter where the leak came from, that person should not have broken that code.
But, they did. And here we are.
Here’s the thing – nothing is secret. If there is more than one person involved in any act, it’ll get out eventually. People talk. It’s what we do.
I’ll be honest – if I had sources within Major League Baseball, law enforcement agencies or Braun’s camp that gave me credible information that could be corroborated – I’d run with it, too. That’s my job. The people reporting on Major League Baseball’s investigation are not making this stuff up. They’re being fed information by someone, somewhere, and they’re getting it confirmed, and then they go with it. They know who they talked to. So do their bosses.
In this business, you don’t make things up. You don’t plagiarize. You don’t libel. You don’t defame.
That’s not happening here, and of course, the principal players in this are irritated.
Braun said this on Tuesday, after ESPN.com once again reported he’ll be suspended for his involvement with Biogenesis:
"I think, in regards to that whole, crazy situation, the truth still hasn’t changed," Braun said. "I’m still going to respect the process and not discuss anything in the media. Beyond that, I think the vast majority of stories that have come out are inaccurate. But aside from that, I’m not going to say anything else about it."
MLB.com reporter Adam McCalvy then asked if that specific ESPN report was inaccurate.
"Just the vast majority of stories that have come out are definitely inaccurate," Braun answered.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Haudricourt then asked if Braun felt he was being unfairly singled out in the coverage of the Biogenesis investigation:
"I don’t really have anything else to say about it," Braun said. "I respect the fact, like I’ve said to you guys plenty of times, you have to ask questions about it. I get it. But for me, I’m not going to say anything else about it."
On Thursday, Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner issued this statement:
"The leaking of confidential information to members of the media interferes with the thoroughness and credibility of the Biogenesis investigation. These repeated leaks threaten to harm the integrity of the Joint Drug Agreement and call into question the required level of confidentiality needed to operate a successful prevention program. The Players want a clean game and they demand a testing program that is not only the toughest in professional sports, but one that guarantees each player due process rights accompanied by strict confidentiality provisions.
"As I stated last month, the Players Association remains in contact with the Commissioner’s Office regarding the investigation, and they continue to assure us that no decisions regarding discipline will be made until the investigation is complete. It would be unfortunate if anyone prejudged the results of the investigation based on unsubstantiated leaks that are a clear violation of the JDA."
Weiner is not wrong there.
The interesting thing is that, as far as we know, no staffers inside the Major League Baseball’s office has been fired or disciplined for leaking information. As far as we know, Braun hasn’t fired anyone from his agency or legal team for leaking information. As far as we know, no one in the MLBPA’s office has been fired or disciplined. This stuff is coming from someone, somewhere. Then others are backing it up.
That said, as of right now nothing is certain. Does it mean that in the end, all of these reports will prove to be right? No. You can’t predict the future. Everything reported now could be true at the moment it’s published or broadcast – but once the case works its way through the MLB appeals process, or even a court room, things can change. We’ve seen it before.
Does it mean this news shouldn’t be reported? No. If trusted, reliable sources give you information that can be corroborated; you have to go with it.
As a journalist, it’s not disturbing to me that confidential information is being leaked. As a fan, or even a citizen, you should want that at all levels of sport, business and government. It helps hold people in power accountable for their actions, or inaction. It shines a light on dark corners, and makes people ask questions. Do you like how we go about getting you this information? Some don’t. Some do. But often it’s the only way it can happen.
What makes Braun’s situation interesting is how bright a spotlight it’s brought onto my profession in its reporting – and that’s a good thing, too.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.