Buster Olney’s Fairy Tale

English: ESPN's Buster Olney on the field for ...

English: ESPN’s Buster Olney on the field for interviews before game time. Either a fancy camera or an alien space craft hovers nearby. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple weeks ago, Buster Olney reacted to Ryan Braun’s statement of apology for using PEDs. On his “Baseball Tonight” podcast, Olney criticized Braun for not being fully open and honest in his apology. He also expressed his frustration in his daily blog. (You can read his blog reaction here; Insider subscription required.) Olney essentially argues that Braun’s toothless apology is as evasive and misleading as were his initial lies—you know, the ones about how he never used PEDs. For Olney, the main problem is the circumstance under which Braun (and several others) have admitted guilt:

There was no crisis of conscience that brought them forward, an internal gnawing that had to be addressed. None have come forward on his or her own and offered to give their money back, out of a belief that they had gained the dollars based on fraud or deception. Most have surrendered and admitted guilt and apologized after being caught. When the choice is between being completely honest or protecting dollars, the primary motive is to not do the right thing, but to hold onto the loot.

Olney emphasized this point in his podcast, arguing that apologies like Braun’s are so overdetermined as to be useless. We’ve been down this road before: player uses banned substances, player is caught, player issues standardized written apology that reads like a form letter. Olney’s not wrong about this; the wording of these mea culpas is always very similar and annoyingly unspecific. So Olney wants a full and honest admission of guilt, for Braun to face the media and answer questions for as long as it takes for us to ascertain that he has revealed everything he can possibly reveal.

Of course, Olney is also absolutely naive in his expectations. Boog Sciambi, the engaging radio play-by-play man for ESPN, said as much on that same podcast. Sciambi agreed with Olney that the apology felt somewhat disingenuous; but he also challenged Olney to imagine what would have been a satisfying response from Braun. True, Braun’s apology seemed to be done by rote; but so was Olney’s response to it. Was there anything Braun could have done to satisfy Olney and his ilk? Yes, he could answer reporters’ questions, but Braun doesn’t have all the answers. He can’t speak to the intricacies of MLB’s administrative workings, or to the actions of other players connected to Biogenesis. He can’t be a legitimate spokesman for all baseball players who have ever used PEDs, considered using PEDs, or condemned others for using PEDs. But this is what the media would try to do with him if he were to sit down and answer questions for hours on end.

Ryan Braun doesn’t have all the answers. Sure, we’d like to know more about what he did. But what will that really get us? Closure? (Not likely, since most people seem to still believe that MLB has an ongoing drug problem.) Understanding? (Not with the incomplete information that Braun can provide.) After a certain point, we have to accept that there will never be a satisfactory response to the many questions that fans and journalists have about players like Braun, and we have to let him go about his business.

Olney would have us believe that Braun’s only two options are to be a money-hungry ogre who would eat your children’s bones or to be a lovable, noble crusader who can singlehandedly pull back the curtain on baseball’s drug crisis. If the latter were even remotely conceivable, I’d be all in favor. But it’s not. Baseball is a business; Braun is an employee. He might be well paid, but he’s not going to give us all the answers we crave, and there’s no reason he should destroy his livelihood attempting to do so. (Has it occurred to Olney that Bud “Acting Commissioner for Life” Selig has been at least as evasive on the question of drug use and policy as any “guilty” player?)

My hat is off to Boog Sciambi for pointing out the hypocrisy of all of us: not only the lying players, but also the reporters and fans who refuse to recognize the impossible fantasy of the standards to which we hold these players.

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