Ryan Braun and the Eternal Importance of Character

Ryan Braun had it all. A good-looking superstar with unlimited potential, he was the darling of an entire state. And he threw it all away. On a Spring Training field in 2012, he inadvertently revealed his true character with a defiant and dishonest denial of PED use.

“I’ve tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always lived my life,” he said. “If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say, ‘I did it.’

“By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart, and I would bet my life, that this substance never entered my body at any point.”

He even went so far as to accuse an innocent PED test collector of tampering with his sample in an effort to frame him. It was implausible then, and it was inexcusable as soon as the world found out that Braun was a liar.

When his lies caught up with him—when his reputation lay in tatters—Braun learned, as all of us should, that our integrity and character are ultimately the only currency we have. A good name takes a lifetime to build, but it can be tarnished in an instant. And unfortunately there is never enough polish to fully restore it.

Ryan Braun learned that the hard way. He was a model player and citizen for the rest of his career—donating his time to charity functions and always being among the most accessible players to fans who wanted to meet him.

It didn’t matter. The shadow of his PED use, and of his strident dishonesty about it, haunted him for the rest of his career and will for the rest of his life.

He’s the Brewers all-time leader in home runs, won Rookie of the Year and MVP, five Silver Slugger awards, made six All star games, and led the National League in slugging percentage and extra base hits three times, yet he’ll never come close to making Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Instead, his legacy will be his lies, and the speech for which he will forever be remembered will be the one in which he defiantly told the world that he never used a banned substance and lashed out at anyone who dared to suggest he did.

Living a lie like that made him defensive, angry, and isolated, and that’s how he will be remembered, regardless of what came before and what he did to try to restore his reputation after.

Some may forgive, but no one ever really forgets. It’s a lesson Braun learned the hardest possible way, in front of the entire world, and it’s one that all of us should remember. No matter how large or how small our circle of influence—no matter how many people will even notice our dishonesty—no one will ever forget it.

It’s always easier to cheat, or at least bend the rules, in an effort to get ahead. That temptation is ever-present and it is enticing. Shortcuts are called that for a reason, after all. But that temptation should always be tempered with the knowledge that when dishonesty is discovered, it is always remembered.

Doing what’s right and always being honest about what we do and how we do it is harder; it might even mean that opportunities pass us by, but unless we want to leave a legacy like Ryan Braun, going the long way is always worth it.

Our character, and just as importantly, how others view it, is ultimately all that defines us. And it’s simply too valuable to throw away.

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