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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 EDT

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 — 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. manifunk - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:07 PM

    Uh I think the violation here is that the sample sat in some dude’s random refrigerator for 2 days. A residential, unlocked refrigerator is NOT a “secure location” by any definition. Seems pretty clear cut.

    • Drew Silva - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:10 PM

      Maybe he had a lock on it. And he’s far from “some dude.” It’s his job to handle drug test samples properly. He’d know what to do in a pinch.

      And who knows if this was “a pinch.” Couriers apparently hold samples temporarily all the time.

      • petef3 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:20 PM

        I would say that “maybe” having a lock isn’t good enough, whether it’s his job or not.

      • cubsrice - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:21 PM

        He possibly had a minifridge or something for that purpose, but it seems to me that if he had used said minifridge (preferably with lock) and not his regular fridge, they wouldn’t have had just cause to rule in Braun’s favor on that technicality.

        As an aside, I wouldn’t put anyone’s pee, not even my own, in my food-storing refrigerator 😀 And if I did, even though there are cups and stuff for storage purposes, I’d wrap it in a dozen plastic baggies. I get ooged out thinking of the dude putting the pee within reach of his bologna sandwiches.

      • skids003 - Feb 24, 2012 at 7:33 AM

        I like Braun, but from what I’ve read of this, his defense was very weak, but evidently they convinced two idiot arbitrators to overturn this case. Amazing at how stupid people with supposedly high education levels think(or not).

      • stevem7 - Feb 24, 2012 at 11:48 AM

        Really have to laugh at skids003 …. if some police officer took his pee sample home, kept it in his refrigerator for two days, and then turned it in for testing you can bet that Skids and his lawyer would be fighting chain of custody all the way. He for sure wouldn’t be going into court to say “Your honor, in spite of the chain of custody issue, I wish to plead guilty”.

    • dondada10 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:14 PM

      And the counter arguement is that it wasn’t “some dude.” It was somebody trained and paid to handle drug test samples.

  2. Ben - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:12 PM

    Gah. This just reeks, no matter how you slice it. For everyone involved.

  3. nekotman - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:13 PM

    The boy is guilty. He just got off on a technicality.

    • thehypercritic - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:15 PM

      Proving that the manner the chain was broken led to higher testosterone levels in the sample isn’t a technicality, it’s science.

      Which only counts as a technicality if the Republican party is judging.

      • nekotman - Feb 24, 2012 at 1:40 AM

        The missus manages a medical lab for a living. So the storage question is
        not scientific. It’s whether or not someone tampered with it before it was tested. It’s a technicality about “handling”, not lab results. Evidently the results
        showed he tainted. His lawyers found a way out for him just like they do for
        millionaires who look ways to avoid taxes.

      • skids003 - Feb 24, 2012 at 7:36 AM

        hypercritic wins the stupid remark of the day. Your party is the party of NO results.

  4. thehypercritic - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:13 PM

    Will Carroll seems to be saying they proved in the arbitration that the way the chain of custody was broken caused the spikes levels of testosterone.

    • Ben - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:15 PM

      Excuse me, but how the hell does that happen without the sample being intentionally tainted?

      • thehypercritic - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:17 PM

        Not sure. Either time or temperature changes chemical composition I suppose.

      • lbehrendt - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:15 PM

        Ben, as we all know the microbes present in a sample can under adverse conditions cause changes to the profile of the urinary steroids. You probably remember that initially there can be cleavage of the glucuronides and sulfates followed by modifications of the steroids’ structure by oxido-reductive reactions. WADA Technical Document – TD2004EAAS.

    • Ben - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:18 PM

      How exactly does time or temperature turn natural testosterone into synthetic testosterone?

      • thehypercritic - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:26 PM

        We don’t know yet, but Braun’s team reportedly repeated it for his defense.

        Also under the impression that you can’t test for natural of synthetic testosterone — that’s why they test levels and employ a floating baseline.

      • Ben - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:28 PM

        pharmaceutical testosterone contains less carbon-13 than endogenous testosterone

      • cur68 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:55 PM

        Still too much unknown. If anything this whole business is a lesson in getting all the facts before rushing to judgement. Some of those facts might include the temperature of the fridge, presence of a lock, who had access, what took place in the home over 2 days, the behaviour of the plastic container the urine was is under cooling and warming (does it leach chemicals over time? Was it a plant based plastic container? etc), what evidence Braun’s team introduced, and so forth. Better just wait for more information, IMO.

  5. wondroushippo - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) seems to be indicating that it’s more than just this. Braun’s camp was able to prove what happened to cause the positive result AND repeat it. There’s a lot we don’t quite know yet.

  6. aceshigh11 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    Looks like we have a disagreement between Drew and Craig.

    Very interesting situation.

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:27 PM

      Is an HBT Smackdown in the offing?

      • cur68 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:47 PM

        Nah, they’ll hug it out in the morning. Their mom’s will make them.

      • Utley's Hair - Feb 24, 2012 at 3:35 AM

        Sometimes moms can ruin all the fun, can’t they?

      • badmamainphilliesjamas - Feb 24, 2012 at 7:08 AM

        Moms are the definition of fun, Utley. :)

      • Utley's Hair - Feb 24, 2012 at 10:05 AM

        Well, depending on how you look at your statement, this conversation could very well veer off in a totally different direction here. Being a father, I could see that. Being a son, I want to bleach my eyes or something….

  7. wj4122 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    Testosterone does not multiply by binary fusion like other organisms do or goes to a state of hypertrophy like a cell would do to certain circumstances or length of time. It is a chemical hormone and does not reproduce only is created. Furthermore you don’t add testosterone by dumping a volume of it into a sample of urine to create an “elevated level”. Its a little more complicated than that. He cheated…had great lawyers and is lucky enough to get away with it. A shame to other players with integrity!

    • phillyphreak - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:29 PM

      binary fission…not fusion.

    • thehypercritic - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:37 PM

      So you’re the morality police? Even if he did break absurd rules — which the people given all the information concluded he did not — he would have used science to help him compete at his best.

      The line between using a cadaver’s ligament in your body (league) to using attention deficit medication (illegal) is so arbitrary as to be absurd.

      Sure, there are a few old school baseball writers too drunk to get off their high horses, but it you’re sober enough to drive you should probably stop caring about what grown men put in their bodies like everyone else with a functioning brain and a life.

      • bowens3181 - Feb 24, 2012 at 2:45 AM

        While I agree with you that if the people that were provided with all the information concluded that he didn’t break the rules, then he probably didn’t break the rules.

        However, I think that your argument, along with all similar arguments that state that it is “absurd” to make steroids and other performance enhancing drugs illegal, is, to be frank, bullsh()t. I fail to comprehend how anyone, from the few drunk, old school baseball writers to even a casual fan can respect and enjoy a sport that would often be decided based on which players can pump the largest amount of the most powerful performance enhancer into their body.

        In my opinion, anyone with a “functioning brain and life” would be smart enough to realize that athletics is about talent that people are born with, and about the work and training they put in to get to the big leagues, not about a bunch of sad men pumping chemicals into their bodies.

    • ffejy - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:10 PM

      But the rest of the sample could be reduced, causing higher percentages of testosterone…

      • wlschneider09 - Feb 24, 2012 at 8:40 AM

        The test is run by comparing the level of testosterone to the level of epitestosterone. If the total volume of the sample goes down, the level of both hormones goes up but the ratio remains the same.

  8. phillyphreak - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:29 PM

    “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?”

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I suspect that to really hear the full story we would have needed to be present in the arbitration hearing.

  9. jvaughan82 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    The language of the agreement is pretty clear: “Absent unusual circumstances” they need to ship out the samples should be sent out the same day. The game that day was at 1:00 CST and lasted under 3 hours. Even if it took an hour to get the sample, that’s 5:00 PM. No excuse for the courier to take so long to get the materials ready. Something shady going on there by the testers…

    • Drew Silva - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:34 PM

      How do you know which day the sample was taken?

      • jvaughan82 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM

        NY Time article

      • jvaughan82 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:42 PM

        Again, I am just looking at a completely different reading of the document. Combined that with the fact that this got leaked (somebody with an agenda wanted to push that agenda), and it’s very easy to see where an arbitrator would side with the player.

      • lbehrendt - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:57 PM

        Also Drew, the Brewers only played one post-season game on a Saturday. That was October 1. It was a day game. Taking your word that there were Fed Ex offices open near Miller Park until 9 pm, there doesn’t seem to be any excuse for the collector to have held onto the sample.

        I think jvaughan82 has it right. FWIW, I thought from what I’d read that this game had to be a night game.

  10. claysbar - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:34 PM

    Don’t blame Braun, don’t blame the courier. Blame all the lawyers that left enough holes in a multi-billion dollar bargaining agreement that would allow a courier to store a players urine next to his leftover mexican food. These are the same folks that are running this country!! Enjoy

  11. ffejy - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:36 PM

    Having dealt with temp. sensitive chemicals for many years, I can say that there’s a big difference between “cool” (usually between 50 and 60 degrees) and “cold” (between 30 and 40 degrees… aka the temp of a fridge)… The wording in the document says cool, not cold, most likely for a good reason.

    • wlschneider09 - Feb 24, 2012 at 8:41 AM

      Testosterone is very stable.

      Clin Chim Acta. 1976 Sep 20;71(3):439-43.

      In order to investigate the stability of testosterone (T) and androstenedione (Adione) in blood and plasma samples following study was undertaken. 1. Pooled blood samples were left unseparated at room temperature for varying time periods of up to 3 days before being centrifuged. Subsequent plasma T and Adione values measured by radioimmunoassay showed only small, insignificant variations. 2. Plasma, initially separated from the pooled blood sample, was left at room temperature for up to 24 h. There was no significant change in the levels of T and Adione measured over this period. There was also good correlation between steroid concentrations measured in blood and plasma. 3. T and Adione were measured in a pooled plasma sample after repeated freezing and thawing of the sample. All T values were well within the intraassay coefficient of variation; all Adione values were within the precision limits of the assay, although there was a considerable spread in individual values. It is concluded that the various handling procedures of blood or plasma have no significant effect on T and Adione levels.

  12. larryboodry - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    I’m with Craig on this one…A sample that is “appropriately safeguarded,” kept in a “cool and secure location,” with “chain of custody intact.” is NOT one that the courier kept in his own personal fridge for two days…It was not kept in a locked fridge – separate from the personal one – or this would have been made public already. So, every time this ‘trained professional’ opened his personal fridge for a snack or a beer, Braun’s sample was exposed to a change in its ‘cool and secure’ environment…Here’s a thought: Why not store the sample until Monday in a locked fridge at the testing lab (which I doubt was actually at Miller Park), and then lock the lab behind you when you leave…Or, next time drive to a Fed Ex location that is open 24/7.

  13. papacrick - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    Well we know where a good portion of that 100 million dollar contract just went…sounds like an inside job

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:50 PM

      I heard Walmart is having a sale on tinfoil, you should check it out because it looks like you are having some signal issues…

  14. chonefigginsishitless - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    The only Saturday Brewers game at home was October 1 vs. D’Backs. The game started at 1:07 local time and was a 2:44 minute game. Thus the game was over before 4:00 in the afternoon. My guess is the sample was taken within 1/2 hour of the end of the game, so he’s ready to go by 4:30. The FedEx at the Milwaukee Airport is 12 miles (20 minutes) from Miller Park and accepts dropoffs until 5:00. It would have been tight but he should have tried.

    It took me 5 minutes to look all this up. Sounds like a pretty lazy guy handling the sample, too lazy to try to get the sample to FedEx or at least do the 5 minutes research I did. Better yet if this is his job shouldn’t he have all this information in his phone/laptop already. I certainly wouldn’t hire this guy to do chain of custodywork if I was in law enforcement or in MLB.

    • ezthinking - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:06 PM

      Seems that if there is warning not to leave samples in your car as it affects the ability to test the sample, page 39 Section XII, subparagraph B, or leave testing equipment in the car because heat/cold can effect the equipment, there are a host of ways a sample can go bad.

      Face it, MLB choked on this.

  15. pitcherspoison - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    Bud’s ties to Milwaukee alone beg this to be further investigated or at least questioned. Braun has a large extension to live up to on the field in Bud’s city as well as an off the field image for a city that just lost their other franchise player – conspiracy theories should be at least mentioned here – the city has a lot to lose by having him look like the bad guy and not be exonerated Bud knows as a whole has a lot to lose by the league MVP failing a PED test and Bud knows this. In a year everyone will forget he even tested positive because a supposed neutral arbitrator found a hole in a story irrelevant to the results of the test.

    Another fraud in the sport we love.

  16. dw3dw - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:48 PM

    My hope now is that there is at least one article from a writer accusing Bud Selig and MLB of a conspiracy–there is no way the Brewers lose both Fielder AND have Braun sit out for 50 games. right? We need the moral authority that only BBWAA can wield to make some baseless accusations. Conspiracy!

  17. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:57 PM

    On a serious note, you conspiracy nuts are hilarious. You really think Selig et al could pull something like this off? They can’t decide on whether there will be a fifth wild card team this year and pitchers and catchers have already reported. Buds blue ribbon commission took what, four years, to make a decision on whether the As could move or not, mlb threatens Arod for playing poker even though it’s not illegal, Bud himself thinks Abner doubleday invented baseball.

    Come on…

  18. maddogg911 - Feb 23, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    Let’s face it, if he was black or Dominican he would have been guilty, but since he is white he got off easy. So sad!!!!

    • paperlions - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:05 PM

      He’s not white, he’s jewish.

      • Gamera the Brave - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:59 PM

        I’m Jewish, and I am also really REALLY white…
        I take your point though, even if it’s splitting hairs just a tad…

      • bowens3181 - Feb 24, 2012 at 2:50 AM

        This is by far the DUMBEST COMMENT EVER. Are you seriously that ignorant that you were unaware that Jewish people can be white? Is being Christian a pre-req for being white? Because like Gamera, I am Jewish, and if I’m not white then I have been severely color blind for a LOOOOOONG time

      • phillyphreak - Feb 24, 2012 at 6:25 AM

        Wow. Paper 1 -Gamera/Bowens 0

      • skeleteeth - Feb 24, 2012 at 8:49 AM

        Jews are caucasian.

      • paperlions - Feb 24, 2012 at 9:12 AM

        Sarcasm people. Damn.

        I was responding to an idiotic post with sarcasm (because such posts don’t deserve legitimate responses).

      • Gamera the Brave - Feb 24, 2012 at 1:00 PM

        paper, mine was sarcasm, too, but less artfully executed.
        I should have gone with “Larry Bird white” for better effect…

      • paperlions - Feb 24, 2012 at 1:50 PM

        No problem…it was my fault for not using the sarcasm font….I figured it didn’t need it, which is always wrong.

    • ffejy - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:06 PM

      Really? Sigh

    • larryboodry - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:18 AM

      Bullsheist…Ask Roger Clemens how much being white helped him.

    • skids003 - Feb 24, 2012 at 7:40 AM

      I knew when I scanned down some idiot would make that comment. Thanks for proving me right, there’s at least one of you in every crowd.

  19. randmwa - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    Guilty or not guilty, it just makes baseball’s drug testing look incompetent. The image of baseball as a dirty sport is sadly reinforced again.

  20. nightrain42 - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:26 PM

    Bud Selig used to own what team? Braun plays for who? Stinks to high heaven to me

  21. frenchy121212 - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:27 PM

    Whitey wins again. This is a joke.

    • Gamera the Brave - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:01 AM

      Wasn’t that the title of Whitey Herzog’s autobiography?

    • skids003 - Feb 24, 2012 at 7:42 AM

      Another one? Throw that card buddy.

      • frenchy121212 - Feb 24, 2012 at 11:17 AM

        I’m white. Just not dumb enough to think skin color doesn’t matter.

  22. lostsok - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    Note to other Brewers: always pee on Saturday afternoon. Trust me on this.

  23. drunkenhooliganism - Feb 23, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    We send the urine to Montreal to be tested? At least we’re still exporting something.

    Also, can we refer to his urine samples as MVPee from now on?

    • Gamera the Brave - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:04 AM

      I cued up the rimshot for you on that post.
      (Golf claps)

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 24, 2012 at 8:55 AM

        Here you go, it works!

  24. hellmaca - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:09 AM

    The tester leaving it in his fridge is way better than leaving it at a random kinko’s. Any employee would have had access to the urine. It would not have been refrigerated and had a much higher chance of being mishandled than being in this tester’s fridge. Have you seen the way courier services treat their packages? I think this guy did the right thing. Even if he had gotten the sample to kinko’s on saturday it would’ve most likely sat there until monday evening when packages go out. It would’ve been much better off in his fridge safe from fedex and kinko’s workers who aren’t too worried about the integrity of the sample.

    • larryboodry - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:27 AM

      That’s why there should be a fridge with a lock at the testing site, and somebody to monitor when the sample got logged in on Saturday evening, and to verify when it was taken out for shipping on Monday.

  25. advantageschneider - Feb 24, 2012 at 12:19 AM

    Call me crazy, but I doubt Braun’s defense team just said, “Hey it’s a chain of command violation b/c it was in the guy’s refigerator. The defense now rests.”

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