Braun doesn't fit mold of steroid user

MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun certainly doesn't fit the image fans conjure up when they hear that a baseball slugger has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Since he joined the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007, Braun has belted big home runs not with cartoonishly large muscles, but with a sweet swing and an ultra-quick bat. Last season, he helped drive the Brewers to the playoffs and was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player.

Now, Braun finds himself fighting a 50-game suspension after news leaked that he tested positive for a banned substance. He steadfastly maintains his innocence.

A spokesman for Braun said in a statement issued to ESPN and The Associated Press that there are "highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence."

ESPN cited two sources Saturday in first reporting the result, saying Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone and adding that a later test by the World Anti-Doping Agency lab in Montreal determined the testosterone was synthetic. Braun is appealing, according to people familiar with the case.

And fans might be inclined to believe Braun, given his clean-cut image and that he hasn't tested positive or even been suspected of using banned substances in the past. And, perhaps above all, the fact that he doesn't look like a human science experiment.

But there is a long history of athletes accused of taking banned drugs insisting they did so to recover from injuries. Sports medicine experts acknowledge the drugs might help, raising the possibility Braun might have been doing just that.

Norman Fost, a professor of pediatrics and director of the bioethics program at the University of Wisconsin, said vigorous exercise breaks down microscopic muscle fibers.

"One theory is that anabolic steroids hasten the repair of those muscle fibers, and allow you to work out harder," Fost said.

Dr. Susannah Briskin, a primary care sports medicine physician with Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, says the potential injury recovery benefits associated with anabolic steroids have been tested on a limited basis, but only on animals.

"This stuff will never end up being studied with humans," Briskin said. "Any medical study must start with, 'Do no harm.' The problem is, there's been a lot of harm proven in studying anabolic steroids."

According to a document on the Mayo Clinic's website, the potential injury recovery benefits of performance-enhancing drugs are part of their appeal to athletes.

Braun has dealt with nagging injuries in recent years, and other players have acknowledged they used performance enhancers to help them recover from injury.

One of the most well-known is pitcher Andy Pettitte, who said he used human growth hormone to recover from an injury, not to enhance his performance. Given the generally positive public reception to Pettitte's admission, Fost wonders why more athletes accused of using banned substances don't just follow his lead.

"What amazes me and mystifies me is that every athlete hasn't figured out that's a correct answer -- and an answer that seems to be deemed acceptable," Fost said.