Say It Ain’t So, Ryan

My great-nephew Jake patiently waiting for an autograph at Brewers On Deck, Milwaukee.  Photo by Callen Harty.

My great-nephew Jake patiently waiting for an autograph at Brewers On Deck, Milwaukee. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Ryan Braun,

As you know your suspension from baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs has disappointed many, many people, not only Milwaukee Brewers fans, but all of those who believed you when you insisted that the allegations you were juicing were not true. You were always such a pure athlete with such natural talent that it seemed obvious that there was no need to use illegal drugs to improve your performance.

In the last day I have heard several comparisons of you to Lance Armstrong, but I keep thinking of a different fallen hero–Shoeless Joe Jackson, a player who got caught fixing games in return for financial gain. What you did is sort of the same thing, but instead of fixing games by trying to lose you fixed them by using drugs to try to win, and in the end it was for financial gain and a greater name. The legend of Shoeless Joe is that a boy caught him outside of the courthouse during the trial and said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” and Shoeless Joe Jackson just walked away from the kid.

Your short statement yesterday and your disappearance from the public scene the last couple of days is just like Joe Jackson walking away from the disbelieving boy at the courthouse. I appreciate that you met with and apologized to your teammates and to your bosses. I am hopeful that you hold a press conference and honestly answer whatever questions may be asked, though after two years of lying anything you say now may rightfully be questioned. You have to earn the trust back.

But it isn’t anyone involved in baseball–or even you–who was hurt the most by this. It is the incredulous kids all over the state of Wisconsin who are thinking to themselves, “Say it ain’t so, Ryan.” It is my great-nephew Jake, a boy who has followed you for years, whose Facebook profile pictures are not of himself but of you, who counts several of your jerseys among his favorite clothes, and who has loved you and idolized you as a hero. What are you going to say to Jake, Ryan? What are you going to say to Jake?

You owe it to him (and to his parents) to not only take your suspension and release a carefully crafted statement, but to talk openly and honestly about what you did, why it was wrong, what you truly learned from this ordeal, and why you will never do it again and why no child should ever think about making the same mistake. You owe it to each of the kids who wear your number on their backs or who pretend they’re you when they’re at the plate in Little League ball to be honest about all of it. You need to do more, not as punishment, but as penance. You need to appear in commercials where you encourage kids to be the best they can be without taking drugs, without cheating, without short cuts, because these things build the character that you lacked for the last several years. You need to go into schools and talk not about baseball, but about the mistake you made, so that those who hear you might learn from it and not make the same mistake. You need to do more than what Major League Baseball and your union agreed upon as your punishment.

I believe that you are a good person who made a mistake and I’m sure that you are hurting, too. I can forgive you. We are all human. We all know that ultimately none of our fathers, mothers, or other heroes are perfect. It is always a hard lesson for a young man or woman to learn that someone they look up to is as human as the next person. Maybe you can be more human and be more of a man and help all those kids learn that it is more heroic to admit your mistakes and learn from them, be utterly honest about who you are, and help others because of those mistakes. This is what you need to do for redemption. The suspension is not it. Losing salary is not it. Facing the media is not it. It is looking into the eyes of kids like Jake and saying truthfully, “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. Please forgive me and I will promise to do better.” It is the only thing that can make you a hero again.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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