22 January 2014

Ryan Braun: Return the MVP

It is one of the more evocative images in rabbinic literature.

Maimonides, the great scholar of medieval Jewish thought and practice, writes about sin and repentance that "one who verbally confesses to his sins and does not affix it to his heart to abandon them is like one who immerses in a mikveh (ritual bath) while clutching on to a reptile.  For such an immersion is to no avail until the reptile is gotten rid of, as it is written, "One who confesses and forsakes his sin will be shown mercy."  (Proverbs 28:13)

This text emerges in the cold of winter as thoughts of spring training and the warmth of a new baseball season can be glimpsed on the horizon.  And it brings to mind in particular the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who will be returning to baseball in a month to begin a new chapter in his career after serving his 65 game suspension for steroid use.

As a lifelong fan of the game and loyal Brewers fan, I watched first with joy and then with profound disappointment as my kids learned to love the game, adopt a hero and then, in a crushing blow, face the facts of human temptation and frailty by watching Braun first deny and then, eventually, admit his cheating.

It was an important moment as a parent, one that required talking through the conflictual ideas of winning at all costs versus winning with fairness and honor.  And while it's true that Braun served his suspension quietly and emerged briefly to apologize to the innocent lab assistant he had maligned as well as call a few season ticket holders to offer his regrets, one final act remains.

Ryan Braun needs to return his MVP Award from the 2011 season.  Having admitted that he used steroids during that ignominious year of personal achievement, the award itself remains in his possession "like one clutching to a reptile."

Quite simply, the apology is not whole, the repentance is not complete, until the 2011 MVP Award is returned to Major League Baseball.

"I didn't earn this by playing fair," Braun should say.  "And any child who looks up to me should know that the greatest of achievements in sport are those that are earned with talent, hard work, and fairness."

Braun should give it back with a bold and clear-eyed commitment to his fans:  "I give you my word that I am going to earn this MVP Award in the right way.  Only then will I have merited holding it in my possession."

The only reptiles in the Brewers camp, which opens soon in Maryvale, Arizona, should be those scurrying about the cacti of Phoenix, not in the hands of one of the game's best talents, seeking redemption for a redeemable error.

Give back the MVP Award, Ryan.  And earn it the right way.  For the home team.

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