MLB takes big leap in right direction battling PEDs

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. (DARREN HAUCK/Reuters)

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. (DARREN HAUCK/Reuters)

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:11 PM ET

Baseball superstar Ryan Braun’s suspension could become a turning point in the fight to rid sports of performance-enhancing drugs, says the man widely considered the father of anti-doping efforts.

It’s been 30 years since Dr. Don Catlin opened the first North American lab focused on PED detection, and since then scores of athletes both amateur and professional have been exposed as cheats through failed tests.

But that global benchmark in sports — that athletes can only be punished if they fail a lab-examined test — has been flipped upside down by Major League Baseball’s Braun beheading.

While the failed 2011 test the slugger beat on a technicality surely sparked MLB’s vigorous pursuit, it couldn’t have been part of the evidence gathered and used to force Braun into accepting a 65-game ban.

That, in short, means Braun was suspended based on a non-analytical positive, or evidence that doesn’t include a flunked test.

And that, Catlin told QMI Agency from California, is eye-popping.

“It is a watershed,” Catlin said. “You can (reasonably) convict people on non-analytical positives. It means (MLB is) going to get tough. That’s what you have to do.”

It’s been a decade since Ken Caminiti’s public confessions blew the lid of baseball’s doping woes, and commissioner Bud Selig deserves credit for his unorthodox pursuit of Braun, the shady face of the Milwaukee Brewers (the home-town team, perhaps not coincidentally, of Selig).

While Manny Ramirez’s 2009 suspension was technically based on a non-analytical positive — an odd test result reportedly alerted MLB investigators, who nailed him with a PED papertrail — that was much less clear to the sports world than the Braun circumstances.

Braun’s also arguably the biggest star busted yet — remember, Barry Bonds was never suspended — and will be punished by fans long after he returns. His unreal public denials after escaping Selig’s grasp in 2011 earned him lifetime status in the Liars Club. (Cooperstown? Not so much.)

The willingness of Selig & Co. to punish based on a non-analytical positive has Catlin’s support, and the Montreal-based leader of the World Anti-Doping Agency is also applauding.

“In recent years (we’ve built) relationships with the likes of Interpol and customs organizations across the world” to find non-analytical evidence of doping, said David Howman, WADA’s director general.

“The forging of these relationships is an increasingly important part in the anti-doping jigsaw, and we commend any bodies who successfully use non-analytical means” to catch cheaters.

A common fear for sports fans? That drug cheats will always find a way to get around even the most strict testing. But there’s no masking agent for PED suppliers who start singing like canaries.

In Braun’s case, his troubles are linked to a Florida clinic, Biogenesis. Its owner, Tony Bosch, is being crushed by an MLB lawsuit that’s apparently forced him to co-operate with its investigation. (The “tortious interference” lawsuit essentially accuses Bosch of meddling with baseball’s no-doping pact with its players.)

A common cry from athletes ensnared in doping scandals? That the evidence against them isn’t fit for a court of law. And they’re right, just not in the way they intended.

While people are routinely convicted of crimes with circumstantial evidence (even murder without proof of a dead body), generally athletes have only been busted if they’re found with their hands on a smoking syringe.

No positive test, no punishment.

Think about that: It’s arguably easier to convict someone of murder than to punish an athlete for using PEDs.

But Selig’s destruction of Braun, and others surely to follow, shows baseball is ready to alter the burden of proof needed to take action.

Will his peers, such as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, follow suit? Catlin, decades into his fight against doping in sports, wonders that, too.

“Whether others will take (that route) or not I don’t know,” Catlin said. “But it shows baseball is really stepping ahead.”


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