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.