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Brauns breaks silence at awards dinner, vows to rise to 'challenge'

NEW YORK -- Self-defense is a legally recognized primal instinct, and it has been stripped away from Ryan Braun in the court of public opinion.

The 28-year-old left fielder batted .332 and hit 33 home runs to help the Brewers clinch the NL Central in September, he batted .405 during the playoffs in October, he was named 2011 National League MVP in November, he was revealed to have failed a test for elevated testosterone in an ESPN report in December and -- undeservedly, at least for now -- he's been nothing but a baseball punching bag into January.

His silence has surely been the hardest part. The only way to avoid a 50-game suspension is to win an appeal with Major League Baseball (his hearing reportedly began on Thursday), so he must respect that confidential process, all while seeing his name be widely sullied by today's quick-to-judge culture.

Previously, the press and public have only learned of a flunked test after a player's attempts to appeal have been exhausted and the suspension is enacted. The Braun case, however, with its leak so early in the process, has opened him up to scrutiny before he's received his due course, so the only fair approach is to, for now, pause judgment.

A victory in the appeals process would seem to be unprecedented, as there are no known major-leaguers who have successfully had a verdict overturned, and so Braun's chances are thought to be a longshot, given the stringent rules that even accidental or unintended intake is not a legitimate excuse for exoneration. Perhaps a tarnished reputation will be deserved -- but not yet.

For more than a month, his lone substantive utterance in response to the allegation arrived in the form of letters tapped on his phone and texted to a few reporters -- "I am completely innocent. This is B.S." -- and one statement from his newly-retained attorney which read, in part, that there were "highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate that there was absolutely no intentional violation of this program."

But on Saturday night Braun was on hand at the New York Hilton to accept his MVP award at the annual Baseball Writers Association of America dinner, and spoke publicly for the first time. While most of the night's winners immediately stashed their hardware on a table before giving their acceptance speech, Braun placed his on the podium before him as he addressed the packed ballroom, no doubt full of questioning eyes from the writers and fans, whose uniform hushed silence indicated the anticipation for his remarks -- which were as on point as the situation allowed.

"Sometimes in life we all deal with challenges we never expected to endure," Braun said. "We have an opportunity to look at those challenges and either view them as obstacles or as opportunities, and I've chosen to view every challenge I've ever faced as an opportunity. And this will be no different.

"I've always believed that a person's character is revealed through the way they deal with those moments of adversity. I've always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball. Everything I've done in my career has been done with that respect and appreciation in mind, and that's why I'm so grateful and humbled to accept this award tonight."

What else was he supposed to say? The BBWAA has already made it clear that it won't strip the award. The appellate process hasn't run to completion. But what a strange set of joy-robbing circumstances now cloud his achievements and have complicated his every move.

Surely, Braun never expected to be in a position to assemble a legal team led by David Cornwell, a lawyer who has forged a reputation as a specialist in defending athletes against drug or PED accusations. And undoubtedly Braun never envisioned hiring a crisis manager, but Braun did that too, seeking the counsel of Matthew Hiltzik who has worked with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Justin Bieber, Jamie McCourt to Alec Baldwin and Ron Artest to Katie Couric.

Though Braun's words were scripted, given how often he looked at the paper in front of him, they sounded sincere and they sounded pained. In fact, Braun, who was not available for any media interviews, managed to cast himself as an almost sympathetic figure, the first-time award winner whose acceptance speech was sure to make headlines and be parsed by scrutinizing ears for even a hint of innocence or guilt, while having to dance around the subject, left able only to express a passion for the game.

"I want to take a moment to congratulate Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki, Albert Pujols, among many others, who are also deserving of this award as well," he said. "It's truly an honor for me to be surrounded by so many people in this room who share my deep love and respect for the game of baseball, including those who cover it, all the fans who are here today and all of us who play the game of baseball."

Early in his remarks, Braun said, "I've really been looking forward to this night for a long time." For most of his baseball-playing life, that would have been true of accepting an MVP award. On this night, it could easily have been a reference to chance to speak. And now to wait for a verdict.

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