At the Crossroads; MLB can Set Domestic Violence Standard


Over the past two years, domestic violence and sports have been linked in an unfortunate cycle of repeat occurrences, each one more disappointing than the last. It’s not always because of an incident’s severity, but because each subsequent instance makes you wonder, “How many more before it stops?

Other major sports leagues have been faced with this problem already. The NFL has been a disaster handling domestic violence; the NBA acted decisively with Jeff Taylor, the most recent domestic violence case in the league; the NHL is mired in its own controversy with Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane’s alleged rape and subsequent dismissal of the case.

The problem doesn’t lie solely with the leagues. The player unions aren’t part of the solution. The NFLPA fought for Greg Hardy, who threw a woman onto a bed of loaded firearms, and reduced his suspension from 10 to four games. The NBPA resisted NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s proactive stance against domestic violence. It takes two to solve an issue this large.

Despite all this, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have a chance to do what no other sports league has done: take a joint no-tolerance stance against domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Ray Rice incident thrust domestic violence into the spotlight. Over the summer in 2014, a video surfaced of Rice punching then-fiancée Janay in the head and knocking her out cold in an Atlantic City, NJ, elevator. The NFL initially suspended Rice for two games, two less than a marijuana violation. After the graphic video of the incident was released to the public, the NFL extended the suspension indefinitely and Rice hasn’t been on a roster since.

After the NFL’s disastrous handling of the Rice suspension, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a domestic violence policy, giving all disciplinary power to the commissioner with “no minimum or maximum penalty.” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has three chances to set the standard this offseason with the arrest of Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes in Hawaii, the Miami brawl involving oft-maligned Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and his sister and the allegations against Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.

The Reyes, Puig and Chapman situations all fall under the domestic violence umbrella, with factual differences setting the three situations apart. Reyes sent his wife to the hospital after an argument became violent, and he was arrested and charged in his case. Puig allegedly shoved his sister in a brawl in Miami and is currently under investigation. For Chapman, no arrest was made after a domestic disturbance complaint where his girlfriend claimed he choked her during an argument. The investigation was closed recently due to “a lack of cooperating witnesses” and “no physical injuries.”

The Reyes case will incur some kind of penalty; it’s just a matter of how severe. Puig and Chapman could get no suspension at all.

Manfred has some decisions to make. Luckily, I’ve made an outline for the minimum penalties for domestic violence for Manfred to follow.

  1. Investigated for domestic violence/sexual assault/child abuse: Paid administrative leave for seven days or the investigation is closed, whichever occurs first.
    • Player is placed in a 10-hour domestic violence educational/community service program.
  2. Arrest for domestic violence/sexual assault/child abuse: Suspended 16 games with pay (10 percent of season).
  3. Charge of domestic violence/sexual assault/child abuse: Suspended additional 66 games with half pay.
  4. First conviction before appeal process: Suspended additional 82 games without pay.

These are the minimum baseline penalties. If the investigation unearths facts that warrant a larger suspension, then an independent party decides the additional penalty after a recommendation from the commissioner.

Following these guidelines, Reyes will automatically be suspended 82 games and receive a 50-percent pay cut during that time. Chapman and Puig would be placed in a domestic violence educational program as a preventative measure against future incidences. Punishment only goes so far; to fix the problem, educating players about domestic violence will help prevent future occurrences.

This is where the MLBPA comes in: they need to support the harsh penalties.

The NBA took an aggressive stance with Jeff Taylor, the former Charlotte Hornets forward, who was arrested and charged with domestic violence in May 2014. Taylor was suspended for 24 games without pay, one of the longest suspensions in NBA history. The NBPA pushed back, calling the suspension “excessive and without precedent.” It’s the NBPA’s job to stand for the players, but whose job is it to stand for the victim?

I get it—a players association is there to fight on the players’ behalf, keep them on the field and keep the checks coming. It’s their livelihood, after all. Any other person who’s arrested for domestic violence has a high chance of losing their job. The difference is there are maybe 12 people who can play shortstop at an above-average level in the major leagues; there are thousands of people who can be a vice president. That shouldn’t matter. The line needs to be drawn.

No claim of domestic violence should ever be taken lightly. No case should ever be dismissed without an investigation. To those who worry about false reports, know the amount of cases that go unreported vastly outweighs the number of false claims. This worry represses and frightens victims from reporting incidents. Major League Baseball must create a culture that listens to every claim, no matter how small. Only through an investigation can the facts be determined, but an investigation has to happen.

Set the standard, Manfred. Be the example for the rest of the sporting world, and be proactive in preventing domestic violence in an industry that has seen too much already.