The big news in baseball today is the Ryan Braun confession to using banned performance enhancing supplements, prompting Major League Baseball to suspend Braun for the rest of the season. Perhaps the bigger question being asked by many today has less to do with why Braun cheated, but instead why Braun went to such lengths — Lance Armstrong lengths — to deny any connection whatsoever to linking him with PED’s. Herein is where sport psychology insights might help.
Why is it that although seemingly every person alive today is taught to “admit when we do wrong things,” we so regularly witness people do everything but tell the truth when confronted? For example, when was the last time you read in the news somebody admitting to a crime? In fact, even in cases where there is eyewitness testimony, video surveillance, and DNA people still deny all guilt! It is from this already established framework that we must place people like Armstrong and Braun.
Risk versus reward — in the case of Ryan Braun, at some point early in the PED scandal he (and presumably his team around him) assessed the evidence they felt was against him and decided a full-go deny, deny, deny strategy would eventually wear down the skeptics. Similar to Lance Armstrong, Braun over time gained more confidence when it became evident that he was going to get off — at least for the time being. Amazingly, the more you tell yourself something, coupled by those around you telling you the same — a new truth seemingly emerges, evidenced by the hubris displayed by both Armstrong and Braun.
Ryan Braun’s denials, interestingly, would not have been nearly the big deal that it is today had this all taken place a few years ago when there were more distractions as well as many more denials by other players. Unfortunately for Braun, timing is everything, and his choosing to follow the Roger Clemens model of not only deny, but lash out against anyone who dare think he used, caught up with him in the worst of ways as evidenced by today’s backlash.
Lie and deny is a response millions of people before Ryan Braun have taken, and millions more will after today. It certainly doesn’t make it “right,” but when you think about how few athletes have come out and immediately owned up to PED’s you might view Braun’s actions as normal, even if it isn’t right.