When domestic violence scandals enveloped the NFL in the fall, officials from Major League Baseball and its players association announced that they would consider a new domestic violence policy to govern their sport. Now, officials from both the league and union are planning to meet this month to discuss how to institute a new policy and what it should look like, Fox Sports reports.
MLB and its players have discussed a new policy in the past, and at a hearing in front of the Senate Commerce Committee in December, MLB executive vice president Joe Torre said that the two sides were working to implement new standards before the 2015 season. Torre told the Senate committee that Baseball was collaborating with domestic violence organizations and experts to develop educational programs for its 30 teams and “protocols that our clubs must follow in response to domestic violence or sexual assault incidents that will include appropriate measures to ensure the safety of affected individuals, providing confidential counseling and treatment for victims, and providing counseling and intervention for perpetrators.”
Those types of educational programs, as well as community partnerships against domestic violence like the one the Seattle Mariners have had in place for years, are probably the most important aspect of any policy. But how players will be disciplined under a new policy apparently remains an issue in fully implementing new standards.
Baseball does not currently have a disciplinary policy specific to domestic violence. Instead, it leaves disciplinary issues up to individual teams, though players involved in such cases can be put into treatment programs managed by both the league and the union (MLB can suspend players if it deems their conduct detrimental to the best interests of the game).
Torre said at the Senate hearing that MLB would like to give the commissioner’s office more power in disciplinary proceedings in a way that “makes it easier for the commissioner to impose an appropriate level of discipline on players who commit acts of domestic violence or sexual assault and have that discipline be upheld in arbitration.” Disciplining players now, Torre said then, can be difficult without a guilty plea or a conviction if the league wants to uphold the suspensions in arbitration.
Both the players and the league appear to want a new policy in place. But it would be shocking if players gave the commissioner’s office full authority over discipline in these instances, especially given the problems that has caused in the NFL with its conduct policy writ large and the league’s handling of the Ray Rice case, which was the impetus for the increased standards. Giving the commissioner full authority to oversee and implement discipline might make it easier to punish players in these cases, but it also can lead to messy fights and “new” policies that seem geared more toward winning public relations battles than actually addressing the problem. The NFL isn’t the only example of that; the MLBPA needs to look no farther than the Alex Rodriguez drug case from 2013.
While giving away unilateral authority seems unlikely (and it doesn’t seem to be what Torre was asking for, at least in the Senate hearing), MLB and its players are moving in a direction the NFL did not by negotiating and bargaining a new policy. Involving both parties will take more time, but allowing them to bargain and hash out issues up front should give MLB and its players a better chance of creating a policy that is actually productive, instead of one that leads to ugly labor battles and legal challenges that distract from the issue they are seeking to address.