A Tainted Jewish Sports Star?


Jews make up a fraction of the population, so when a Jew gets in the news, it’s a big deal—whether it is for the right or the wrong reasons. Don’t get me wrong, doctors and lawyers are all great, but the heart and soul of this country (for me, at least) revolves around big-time athletes.

As a Jew who loves sports, it is often challenging to find a Jew to root for. Sure, I can hang my hat on Sandy Koufax, but in reality this isn’t Yom Kippur, 1965.

So who can Jews cheer for? How about Omri Casspi, an Israeli NBA player for the Cleveland Cavaliers. A player who can shoot from great distances, whose talent can’t be denied. Eh, no.

Who else? Shahar Peer, the Israeli women’s tennis player. She showed glimpses of greatness beating three former no. 1-ranked women (Dinara Safina, Ana Ivonovic and Caroline Wozniack). However, as of this year her game has begun to decline significantly. I’ll pass here.

Is there anyone who can give the chosen people some hope? The answer lies with baseball star Ryan Braun. The reigning National League Most Valuable Player in Major League Baseball has finally given Jewish sports enthusiasts some hope!

Ryan Braun, an outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, has steadily improved his performance over the past few seasons. His numbers (33 home runs, 111 RBI and a batting average of .332 earned him the national league’s top honor. Maybe the best part is that he is only 28! There you go, we are set for the next 10 years.

Oh, how wrong I was.

During the off-season in 2011, Braun tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. When I first heard this news, I was devastated. This scandal erupted just when I thought that I finally had my Jewish athlete to look up to. There goes that whole, “we are set for the next 10 years” thing.

But wait, it gets better!

Feb. 23, 2012 proved to be a great day for Jewish baseball fans: Ryan Braun’s suspension was overturned. He no longer had to serve his suspension for the season. This may sound ordinary, but it is far from it. This is absolutely monumental. This is the first time in the history of Major League Baseball that they overturned a suspension for a positive drug test.

Braun claimed that the drug test was conducted inaccurately. He said his urine sample was left at room temperature for 48 hours when it is supposed to be refrigerated immediately. I am no expert on steroid testing, but Braun’s explanation seemed a little shaky. If that sample were to remain at room temperature for 48 hours, would it really change the content of what is inside the sample? I am not sure. All I know is that scandals like this tend to be detrimental to a player’s career.

This season has shown that the steroid scandal has had little to no effect on Braun. Braun has continued to put up MVP-caliber numbers. He is on pace to hit more home runs, have more walks and steal more bases than last season. He is also on pace to maintain his slugging percentage, RBIs and on-base percentage.

Does this mean that Braun didn’t take steroids and the scandal has had no effect on him? Does it mean that the steroids have been helping him stay consistent this season? I don’t think we will ever really know.

Here is a question to be asked by Jewish sports enthusiasts for years to come: will you root for Braun in spite of the scandal? Braun has become the heart and soul for Jewish baseball fans. But is his career now tainted?

It is an unfortunate truth that Jewish sports superstars are few and far between. In my opinion, we need to root for the few stars that we have. Major League Baseball must have seen something valid that influenced them to overturn their decision to suspend Braun, who has clearly displayed his mental toughness throughout the whole steroid scandal.

Even if Braun took steroids, our Jewish heritage has praised individuals that have made mistakes. Even when Moses disobeyed God and struck the rock, Moses still maintained his status as an admirable Biblical leader. 

Whether Braun took steroids or not shouldn’t influence our opinion of him. He is a tremendous baseball player, a marketable personality and, most of all, a charitable individual. He donated bats to poor children through the organization, 10,000 Swings.

Steroids or not, I stand with Ryan Braun, one of the best Jewish athletes of all time.