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Sports: MVP's Drug Suspension Ends, Lin Takes Heat


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.


SIMON: One of baseball's best young stars has his drug ban overturned. So why isn't Major League Baseball celebrating? Also, Lin takes some Heat in Miami and another big Tiger Woods putt just rolls away. When will they start to drop? NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us.

Morning, Tom.


SIMON: And Ryan Braun showed up for spring training this week. Big deal. Because the reigning National League Most Valuable Player was supposed to miss the first 50 games of the season because of a drug suspension. It was overturned on Thursday. Take us there. What did he say?

GOLDMAN: He said he didn't dope. He said the drug testing process failed him and that the alleged failure apparently prompted the arbitrator's decision to overturn that ban. Now, Braun is the first major leaguer, Scott, to have his appeal of a doping suspension upheld. And essentially here's what he said happened.

The person who took Braun's urine sample last October, he was supposed to drop it at FedEx for shipment to the lab in Montreal. According to Braun, there were numerous FedEx places near the Milwaukee ballpark the collector could've dropped off the sample. But, Braun said, the person didn't take it to FedEx and instead kept it at his home from Saturday to Monday. Now, Braun says that that was a total of about 44 hours.

This could've been innocent. People with years of experience in drug testing say a weekend delivery of samples can be difficult because the FedEx drop off spots are sometimes closed. But Braun indicated yesterday that whatever happened wasn't innocent. He was asked if he thought the sample collector tampered with his urine sample. Here's how he answered:

RYAN BRAUN: There are a lot of things that we've heard about the collection process, the collector and some other people involved in the process that have certainly been concerning to us, but beyond that, as I've dealt with this situation, I know what it's like to be wrongly accused of something. And for me to wrongly accuse somebody else of something wouldn't help anybody.

GOLDMAN: Now, Scott, Major League Baseball official Rob Manfred is quoted as saying, "The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun's case acted in a professional and appropriate manner."

SIMON: I guess a lot of people are wondering do you put it in the fridge or what. But, in any event, there is still this issue of the positive drug test. Now, does the arbitrator's ruling mean that he's satisfied Mr. Braun didn't dope?

GOLDMAN: Well, Braun would like the world to believe that. The urine sample tested at the Montreal lab showed very high levels of testosterone, including synthetic testosterone. That means not naturally produced by the body. Braun said after the positive test, he provided documentation to show he wasn't taking any banned performance enhancers. Here's, again, what he said:

BRAUN: Our times are recorded every time we run. I literally didn't get 1/10th of a second faster. My workouts have been virtually the exact same for six years, I didn't get 1 percent stronger. I didn't work out any more often. I didn't have any additional power or any additional arm strength.

GOLDMAN: Now, I asked world renowned drug tester Don Catlin about this statement, and he said the things Braun says there could be irrelevant. If the high levels in the sample were caused by Braun's very first use of testosterone, it would take two or three weeks for the effects to show and they may be very subtle. So Catlin and others in the anti-doping science community and Major League Baseball officials who initially suspended Braun, they don't think Braun's completely off the hook as far as drug taking goes.

SIMON: Explain this to me, Tom, one of baseball's biggest draws is going to be able to play from the season opener. The reigning MVP hasn't essentially been impeached. So why isn't Major League Baseball celebrating?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, this has been embarrassing for Major League Baseball and the drug program. Baseball and the player's union had to dragged kicking and screaming into serious drug testing. Once they got there, in recent years, that program has become the standard in major pro sports leagues in this country. Major League Baseball takes it seriously.

Now, Major League Baseball and the union are practicing damage control. Baseball and the union officials are saying the Braun decision doesn't mean the whole program is flawed and that any problems with sample collection and shipment will be addressed quickly.

SIMON: Quick in the minute we have left, did Jeremy Lin just have a bad game against the Miami Heat last night or are people beginning to catch his magic?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, I think we can say Lin-sanity is still on to a certain extent. He played a very good team, the best in the NBA, with a great defense. Jeremy Lin does have to cut down on his turnovers, but as long as he's playing for a coach who loves him, Mike D'Antoni, I think he's going to be OK.

SIMON: Tom, Tiger Woods lost at the Match Play Championship in Arizona this week. He muffed a short putt. What do we make of that?

GOLDMAN: We were shocked. He usually made those. Five-foot putt on the 18th green to lose the match. You know, Tiger will never be dominate again. Other golfers just aren't intimidated like they once were. But we keep waiting for him to at least put all the elements of his game together, to see how far back he can come. So far he hasn't done it.

SIMON: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.