By Kyle Hood
The topic of discussion for February is the ongoing concern relating to domestic violence, and the athletes involved with it. As we know, the National Football League (NFL) has had a growing number of players involved in domestic disputes over the last few years. Pro-Bowler’s; Greg Hardy, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Brandon Marshall and others have faced charges, arrests, or backlash for their particular incidents. Hope Solo, a popular face for US Soccer, has also been involved with disputes, as well as athletes from every other sport. While some players have faced short suspensions, many have seen little in the way of discipline despite probable cause, or investigation outcomes.
Major League Baseball (MLB) wanted to change that, and last year the newly appointed Commissioner of the league made it a point to try and get ahead of it. In August 2015, MLB announced that it reached an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) on a new policy regarding domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault. Commissioner Manfred said, “We believe that these efforts will foster not only an approach of education and prevention but also a united stance against these matters throughout our sport and our communities.” Per MLB website, the new policy plan intends to
“[P]rovide a comprehensive policy addressing issues such as protecting the legal rights of players, treating violations seriously, holding players accountable through appropriate disciplinary measures and providing resources for the intervention and care of victims, families and the players themselves.”
Education would come in the way of courses taught to players on the aforementioned topics, while community service would involve public speaking appearances on the subject. Discipline would be at the sole discretion of the Commissioner and would not have minimum or maximum response. While it seems to look good on paper, the real question would be whether or not they will enforce it without prejudice and bias.
As the league enters Spring Training there is already one player who has become the test case for the new policy. In October, Joes Reyes, All-Star shortstop for the Colorado Rockies, was arrested in Maui for domestic violence. Reyes was issued a citation, and wife was taken to the hospital with visible injuries. Reyes’ trial is scheduled to begin in April of this year, but until then he has been indefinitely suspended during the ongoing investigation. Also happening in October, an incident involving the hard throwing All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman and his girlfriend surfaced. Allegedly he choked her, threw her against a wall, and fired gun shots in his garage. While no arrest was made, Chapman is expected to face a suspension of his own any day now regarding the events.
A third player, All-Star Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig, is also under investigation stemming from an altercation at a Miami nightclub last November. Since no one is pressing charges, Miami Police says the case is closed, but MLB will conduct their own investigation.
Since MLB decided to try and get in front of the issue and establish a zero tolerance policy, news outlets have also used this as an opportunity to highlight the issue surrounding athletes and domestic violence, and are focusing the light on Commissioner Manfred to set an example for others to follow.
The larger systemic issue here has been a level of acceptance on the part of leagues, and society, with athletes to get away with things off the field, as long as they produce on the field. Even Adrian Peterson had an avid support base despite the horrific allegations of child abuse. And while Ray Rice was eventually suspended indefinitely, it did not come until after harsh criticism. For Major League Baseball, a league that continues to try and find new ways to expand their audience, they had no choice but to pass and subsequently enforce harsher penalties.
Some will argue that the suspensions are exerting a level of “guilty until proven innocent.” However that could not be further from the case. Jose Reyes has been put on paid leave pending the outcome of his case. He has not lost his right to appeal, his standing as a member of the MLBPA, his pay, or his job as a whole. The dangerous response would be immediately assuming the athlete is guilty, voiding their contract, and/or releasing the player as a level of discipline before the outcome was known. It is not uncommon for jobs to put employees on administrative leave pending their respective investigations. This does not necessarily mean they are guilty, and that is important to remember.
It becomes important for these leagues to set an example moving forward. Punishment cannot be lax in response to serious offenses like domestic violence, or child abuse. The movement against domestic violence continues to grow, and turning the other way is no longer acceptable. For leagues that employ role model athletes, it becomes imperative for them to send the message to audiences that it will no longer be tolerated.
Athletes carry a level of social influence others are not fortunate enough to have, so that puts pressure on the leagues to take the required step and promote more awareness. While some leagues still have a long way to go, the eyes of all of them will certainly be on MLB and how they handle these ongoing investigations. Gone are the days where fines and short suspensions were acceptable. We should start holding athletes accountable for their actions much like we would hold any other citizen accused of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or child abuse.