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Was there really a violation of chain of custody protocol in Ryan Braun’s PED case?

Feb 23, 2012, 9:56 PM EST

braun reuters Reuters

Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun had his 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension overturned Thursday after independent arbitrator Shyam Das ruled that there were legitimate chain of custody issues with the urine sample that eventually tested positive for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.

After a thorough review of the joint drug agreement between Major League Baseball and its Players Association — a document that is conveniently available in PDF form on MLB.com — I’m not so sure that Das came to the right conclusion.

Braun’s argument during his January appeal in New York City was that the courier who collected his urine made a number of against-protocol moves after leaving the testing area. But were mistakes really made?

  • The courier did not immediately head to a FedEx Office after collecting Braun’s sample following an early-October game because it was late on a Saturday night and he figured the store would be closed. Braun (or, rather, his lawyers) argued in January that the courier’s action was against policy, but the MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement states that “specimens cannot be placed in a FedEx Drop Box” and the five FedEx Office locations closest to Miller Park are all closed before 9 p.m. on Saturdays. In fact, the location closest to Miller Park — just 3.28 miles away — isn’t open at all on Saturdays.
  • Also, none of the FedEx Office locations in the Milwaukee area ship items out on Sundays. So instead of giving the sealed cup of urine to a FedEx Office employee at some point Sunday and hoping for proper handling, the courier followed the terms of the MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement (see pages 37-39) by storing Braun’s urine sample in a secure refrigerator at his residence until Monday morning, when FedEx could finally get the shipment to the appropriate testing lab in Montreal.
  • The MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement fully allows for temporary storage by couriers — people who are trained and paid to handle drug test samples, and do so as a profession — as long as the specimen can be “appropriately safeguarded,” kept in a “cool and secure location,” with “chain of custody intact.” A refrigerator in the private residence of a trained doping officer would seem to fit those guidelines.

So if the courier is allowed to temporarily store samples on his own, and he did so in his own residence, where exactly is the chain of custody issue? And why did Das rule to have the suspension overturned?

Furthermore, consider this series of tweets from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:

Passan also notes in his latest column that the courier testified in person at Braun’s January appeal hearing in Manhattan and assured those present that the urine sample was packaged into two tamper-resistant containers with security seals. Both seals were unbroken upon their arrival at the testing lab in Montreal.

108 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. tacklemeelmo - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    First off, there is not enough information available to us and judgement should be reserved.

    Knowing that will never happen, this is simply the way the arbitration works. Both sides agree on an arbitrator, and by doing so you agree to stand by the decision that person makes. The MLB has to stand by this decision (and they already said they will).

    Someone stated previously the defense was able to replicate the abnormally high levels, and if this is true I don’t see how the suspension could have been upheld in any way.

    Anyways, this never should have been leaked in the first place. This messes everything up and Braun has basically been crucified even though he very well could be innocent. I don’t know if anyone out there has truly reserved judgement of Braun, but I do feel as though many who called him out in the media really need to issue an apology at this time. It is too easy to cry “loophole” at this point. People need to admit they rushed to judgement, and in doing so may very well have caused irreparable damage to Braun’s image and career.

    • phillyphreak - Feb 24, 2012 at 6:28 AM

      Agree. Unfortunately the loophole will be used in almost every written article today.

  2. ningenito78 - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:25 AM

    I’m just baffled anybody can think justice has been done here. The guy’s profession is collecting urine. He knows the protocol. His urine came up positive for synthetic urine and I assume, as with any drug testing procedure, so did his second sample which is always done upon a positive test to rule out a false positive. The dude took something he wasnt supposed to and got off on a TECHNICALITY. Yes it was by freakin DEFINITION a technicality. And a bogus one at that. Now a precedent has been set. At least we get to see guys hit 70 homers again.

    • larryboodry - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:36 AM

      Ah, there you go, ASSUMING Braun dropped dirty the second time, because God forbid you give him the benefit of the doubt…You just proved Craig’s post, if he’s guilty in your mind, the truth and final vindication mean nothing.

  3. advantageschneider - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:33 AM

    Will Carroll ‏ @injuryexpert Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
    I have an article in to SI explaining more about what happened with Braun’s appeal. I’m going to hold off details until it runs.

    Maybe we should wait until this article comes out b/f we draw any conclusions. What do you think Silva?

    A guy that will write something actually based on facts. Get out. That’s crazy. We can’t have that on the internet.

    • phillyphreak - Feb 24, 2012 at 6:27 AM

      So it’s pretty clear to see where Drew stands on Braun and steroids now?

    • phillyphreak - Feb 24, 2012 at 8:11 AM

      I read this comment again and it still really bothered me. My issue is that it seems that it didn’t matter what the result of the appeal was- it seems that your (any many) people’s minds were made up.

      The problem with this is that no one (not even the great Passan) knows what exactly went on or the arguments that Braun’s team used during the hearing. I read that the arbitrator has 30 days to issue a written summary. Hopefully that will shed some light.

      And the other thing is that, while not every story or angle reported is true, you totally dismissed the POSSIBILITY that it has some truth to it. That may not have been your intention, but it is how it reads.

    • phillyphreak - Feb 24, 2012 at 11:56 AM

      I understand writing the post. I’m not taking issue with that. It’s the nature of the comments you made that suggested that there were no other possibilities (again maybe you didn’t mean it that way.)

      But we can’t honestly believe that it’s as simple as you lay it out above, right? Are we really going to assume that the media members who say “hey wait the chain of custody was fine” are using an argument that wasn’t at least mentioned in the hearings?*

      * And that’s the main point. We don’t know enough right now to judge. But it seems like too many are ignoring due process now.

    • Drew Silva - Feb 24, 2012 at 11:58 AM

      I’m very open-minded to the case. I’d really like the NL MVP to be innocent. And no, it’s not as simple as this post suggests. There were things said in that arbitration hearing that we don’t have a clue about yet.

      I was just trying to dig deeper on the details we do have.

    • phillyphreak - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:18 PM

      Alright then. Thanks for clarifying.

    • phillyphreak - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:56 PM

      Cool. Thanks for the clarification.

  4. ningenito78 - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:45 AM

    What are you talking about? If his urine was clean on second test it’s considered a negative test or they retest. It’s not assumption. Ever get drug tested for work? Read the procedure manual they give you.

    • larryboodry - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:49 AM

      All I’m saying is, unless you KNOW for a fact that his second test was positive, then you shouldn’t automatically ASSUME it was.

  5. ningenito78 - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:46 AM

    And Craig’s post was a joke. Typical defense attorney blabber. I normally agree with Craig. But he just came off as an apologist in that post.

  6. ningenito78 - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:59 AM

    I’m really not assuming bro. A positive drug test is only declared a positive result if the initial and recheck tests both come up positive. If you pee in a cup and test hot a confirmation retest is administered to rule out any possibility of a mistake, faulty equipment, etc. I’m not being presumptuous. If he would have won his appeal on the account of a medication related false positive or something legit I would be absolutely cool with this. But he got off on a technicality. Despite what Craig say it was, in fact, a technicality. Like if a drunk driver gets off because they found out the cop didn’t follow procedure even though the driver blew a .20 the fact is he was still drunk driving. He just doesn’t have to pay the consequences because of a TECHNICALITY. This is the same damn thing my man.

    • rodgersmvp - Feb 24, 2012 at 1:41 AM

      You have to wait for more details to come out before you can rule it a technicality. For all we know they proved the urine collector was dirty, or his refrigerator was on top of some kryptonite – more info will come out.

    • larryboodry - Feb 24, 2012 at 2:50 AM

      Your original words, and I quote (emphasis mine)…

      “His urine came up positive for synthetic urine and I ASSUME, as with any drug testing procedure, so did his second sample which is always done upon a positive test to rule out a false positive.”

      Okay, so yes, you were assuming…But if the initial test sample was positive, nobody knew this on Saturday, ’cause the courier never sent the cup to Montreal until Monday…When (and if) a second test was done, what was the result? I’ve only heard of one positive test, the one that was compromised by the courier. And apparently, you never heard of a second test, or you would not have used the word ‘assume’ in your original comment.

      Now, I admit, I don’t know much on this testing procedure and protocol…If Braun WAS issued a second test right after the first positive, then that sample was also compromised…But, and this is more likely, if he was re-tested at some other time and place (after Montreal rendered their verdict), then what was that result?
      If that one was also positive, then yeah, Braun caught a break on a technicality.

      My only beef with you was the word ‘assume’ – not the chance that Braun may have gotten lucky here. As others have mentioned, until all the facts are out, none of us should jump to conclusions. Agreed?

      • larryboodry - Feb 24, 2012 at 3:35 AM

        From an article on Yahoo Sports:

        “A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that, after being informed of the positive result, Braun asked to have another urine test taken, and that the second test was within normal range.”

        Well, that seals it for me…Braun was innocent after all…Shame so many people rushed to judgement, and also that many of these same people will continue to insist he cheated somehow.

      • Drew Silva - Feb 24, 2012 at 3:50 AM

        Braun was informed of the failed test in late October, over three weeks after providing the initial positive sample. Of course he was asking to take another one. If innocent, he would have been fighting to clear his name. If guilty, the testosterone would have already been out of his system.

    • Baseball Beer Burritos In That Order - Feb 24, 2012 at 3:44 AM

      There are many circumstances where “a technicality” can be the difference between a failure of the justice system and someone’s incarceration.

      This is definitely not one of them. He pretty obviously got the “elite player” pass.

      • larryboodry - Feb 24, 2012 at 4:26 AM

        Drew…His initial test was not handled correctly, and quite possibly would have been clean had the courier not stored it improperly…And as to Braun not being informed of the positive result until three weeks later, was that his fault? No…In fact, from the moment he did find out, he vehemently denied taking steroids AND immediately asked to be re-tested. Sorta like any sane person would do if they were the victim of a false positive.

        It amazes me how some people insist on always believing the worst, even after their fears prove to be unfounded.

  7. shzastl - Feb 24, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    there’s a seal (a sticker) on the bottle that Braun signed. If that remained intact, it shouldn’t matter that the collector kept it in a cool secure place (his fridge) until mondzy rather than drop it at a warmer place (local fedex office).

    • ffejy - Feb 24, 2012 at 2:00 AM

      Well, is your fridge cool or cold? I keep mine cold… Better for the beer… Not the same as “cool”

  8. txnative61 - Feb 24, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    Technicality Schmecknicality, Ump says he’s safe, he’s safe—on with the game. BASEBALL, remember??? Trial by press, ye’re outtta here!!!

  9. bobdira - Feb 24, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

  10. makeham98 - Feb 24, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    He should have stored it in a beer can in his garage. That way congress would have supported him.

  11. dohpey28 - Feb 24, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    The fix was in from the beginning. No way MLB wanted their NL MVP suspended.

  12. umrguy42 - Feb 24, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    Ya know, I see this ‘cool’ vs ‘cold’ debate going on, and I wonder – what temperature are these samples *shipped* at? And how would that affect things?

  13. dtbiowa - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    goodbye to drug testing in the MLB, you did your best, but there’s too many idiots who don’t care and don’t want drug testing (Players and their union). There’s no point in having drug testing when you can just hire a smart lawyer. And having someone from the union in on the process, who thought up that good idea. When is he ever going to vote against a player. If Braun was seen with a dead body, bloody knife in hand, with 12 witnesses who saw him do it, the union rep is still going to support Braun.

  14. blabidibla - Feb 24, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Always amazes me when forums argue a case like this but can’t be bothered to read the article that clearly show the facts won’t support their point.

    The courier did not immediately head to a FedEx Office after collecting Braun’s sample following an early-October game because it was late on a Saturday night and he figured the store would be closed. Braun (or, rather, his lawyers) argued in January that the courier’s action was against policy, but the MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement states that “specimens cannot be placed in a FedEx Drop Box” and the five FedEx Office locations closest to Miller Park are all closed before 9 p.m. on Saturdays. In fact, the location closest to Miller Park — just 3.28 miles away — isn’t open at all on Saturdays.

    Also, none of the FedEx Office locations in the Milwaukee area ship items out on Sundays. So instead of giving the sealed cup of urine to a FedEx Office employee at some point Sunday and hoping for proper handling, the courier followed the terms of the MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement (see pages 37-39) by storing Braun’s urine sample in a secure refrigerator at his residence until Monday morning, when FedEx could finally get the shipment to the appropriate testing lab in Montreal.

    The MLB-MLBPA joint drug agreement fully allows for temporary storage by couriers — people who are trained and paid to handle drug test samples, and do so as a profession — as long as the specimen can be “appropriately safeguarded,” kept in a “cool and secure location,” with “chain of custody intact.” A refrigerator in the private residence of a trained doping officer would seem to fit those criteria.

  15. nuron1231 - Feb 24, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    I do urine drug screens every day at my job so let me make just one thing clear that I do know. Taking a chain of custody urine sample home and keeping it stored for two days in a personal fridge is beyond worthless. Negligent. Incompetent. Absurd. Ridiculous come to mind. The sample should have been trashed the day it happened and they could have retested him again later when it wouldn’t have interfered with the courier’s lifestyle.

  16. phillysoulfan - Feb 24, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    WOW!!!!! So who paid how much to get this overturned?

  17. mrznyc - Feb 24, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    Synthetic – That’s the only word that means anything – You can store urine, pasta, apples, meat or just about any other oganic substance any way you want and nothing is going to turn it into something synthetic. In literary circles the rest of the blather is known as a red herring. Unless, of course, you believe someone snuck into the guys house and replaced the original sample with a tainted one with a perfectly duplicated seal. In literary circles that is known as a mystery.

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