Less than 24 hours after the news broke Saturday evening, Cornwell already was working on Braun’s behalf, telling the Journal Sentinel that “any report that Ryan ingested a performance-enhancing drug is wrong,” and USA Today that “this breathless coverage and death watch of Ryan Braun is reprehensible.” Cornwell In the meantime, a few text messages from Braun himself proclaiming his innocence have made their way into print. On Tuesday, Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, issued a statement reiterating the importance of not rush- ing to judgment as the process plays itself out.
In reality, it’s probably already far too late for that in the court of public opinion.
But the focus for Braun at this point has to be becoming the first player in 13 tries to successfully appeal his case to a three-person panel consisting of a representative from the players union, a representative from the commissioner’s office and longtime MLB arbitrator Shyam Das.
Knowing that, it’s certainly no coincidence that the Atlanta-based Cornwell is the one who ultimately will present Braun’s case.
Sports law expert Not only has he fought against and negotiated with the NFL, NBA and MLB in a number of high-profile disciplinary cases since 2004, Cornwell has forged a reputation as a specialist when it comes to defending athletes facing suspension for drug or PED usage.
Cornwell is well-versed in sports law, having started his career in 1987 as an assistant counsel for the NFL.
He went on to work for Leigh Steinberg and Jeff Moonegotiations rad as a sports agent in 1992, and then served a stint as vice president and general counsel for well-known sports card and memorabilia company Upper Deck before eventually launching his own sports law firm, DNK Cornwell, in 1997.
Cornwell, who didn’t respond to a request for an interview through a public relations firm hired by CAA, also has worked as a legal analyst for ESPN and in 2009 was one of four finalists seeking to become executive director of the NFL Players Association, a job eventually won by De-Maurice Smith.
Along the way, he’s fought plenty of battles for some major sports stars.
In 2007, Cornwell helped negotiate a settlement with the NFL to get running back Ricky Williams reinstated after an 18-month suspension for multiple violations of the league’s drug policy. In 2008, he represented running back Reggie Bush in a civil suit brought against him by a man claiming he gave nearly $300,000 in cash and benefits while Bush was playing at USC in 2004 and 2005.
In 2010, Cornwell represented quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who eventually was suspended for six games by the NFL for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in the wake of an accusation of sexual assault in Georgia.
This year, Cornwell helped reduce running back Cedric Benson’s three-game suspension to one game plus a fine for his involvement in a pair of off-field incidents; he also represented Terrelle Pryor in with the NFL regarding his entry into the supplemental draft after the quarterback left Ohio State following an NCAA scandal there.
But of particular interest to Braun’s side, no doubt, were Cornwell’s forays into defending athletes facing suspension for PED use.
He represented three Oakland Raiders who were facing suspension for PED use in 2004. All three wound up being fined three game checks instead after Cornwell successfully argued that the players were unknowingly administered steroids.
Defended Saints A few years later, Cornwell fought on behalf of three New Orleans Saints who were facing suspension for testing positive for a banned prescription diuretic regarded as a masking agent for steroids by the NFL. The case made its way through the court system for three years before the suspension was reduced from four games to two. The players also were fined two game checks. One had retired in the meantime. Cornwell has fought one high-profile PED suspension case for a baseball player: J.C. Romero, who pitched last season for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Colorado Rockies.
Romero was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2009 season after testing positive for steroids in August 2008, just a few months before helping the Phillies win the World Series.
Romero claimed his positive test was caused by his use of two over-the-counter supplements he bought from two separate retailers that were advertised as legal testosterone boosters. He did not appeal the suspension but later filed a civil suit against the makers of the supplements as well as the retailers.
While there have been few details leaked about the specifics in Braun’s case, ESPN reported that Braun tested positive for a PED that resulted in an abnormally high level of testosterone that later proved to be synthetic, then provided a clean urine sample two weeks later.
Players who unknowingly ingest a tainted supplement resulting in a positive test can’t use that as a defense under MLB’s policy of strict liability.
As the Journal Sentinel reported earlier this week, a more likely defense Cornwell might employ is questioning the validity of Braun’s first positive test because of the extraordinarily high levels of testosterone.
Braun also had never failed a test before October. After becoming one of the best players in baseball while being PED-free, why would Braun start cheating now? Cornwell is certain to ask that question, as well as many others as he attempts to void the suspension and clear the name of the face of the Brewers’ franchise and the National League’s most valuable player.
Whether it works remains to be seen. But in putting Cornwell on the case, Braun’s representatives seemingly have pulled out all the stops in this high-stakes battle.