The NFL has justifiably faced loud criticism in recent years over its mishandling of domestic violence cases, most famously Ray Rice's, but here's something you hear less about: Major League Baseball has never suspended a player for domestic violence. Not once.
That's not a result of MLB players' good behavior. Rather, it's a result of former commissioner Bud Selig never intervening in domestic violence cases involving MLB players at any point during his 22 years in charge of the league.
Rob Manfred succeeded Selig as commissioner of Major League Baseball in January 2014, and the MLB of new knows the observing public won't accept the bystander mentality of its past. Dan Halem, MLB chief labor officer, admitted as much to ThinkProgress in April, saying MLB hadn't focused enough on violence against women. The league announced a new policy in August.
Now, Manfred faces his first test. Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was arrested on Oct. 31 for allegedly attacking his wife, and advocates are calling on Manfred to right the league's history of inaction.
Reyes' arrest is disheartening and worrisome, but it presents an opportunity for Manfred to potentially act decisively where his successor failed.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred (right) has a strong opportunity to improve upon Bud Selig's (left) weak stance on domestic violence.
"They have an opportunity to demonstrate to the American public that they take this issue very seriously," said Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to The Huffington Post. "What they have to do is demonstrate very solidly how they came to whatever decision they’ve come through. We’re not talking about fluff -- we’re talking about the process that they used."
The MLB told HuffPost that Manfred and his staff have spent the past year educating themselves about the complexities of domestic violence with the assistance of "a variety of experts in this area." After consultation with advocates, including Glenn and the NCADV, MLB announced a new Joint Domestic Violence Policy with the MLB Players Association in August.
While the commissioner already had the power to punish offenders under the "Just Clause" and "Conduct Detrimental or Prejudicial to Baseball" provisions in the collective bargaining agreement, this new policy specifically addresses crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. The policy has no minimum, maximum, or baseline punishments for offenders and affirms Manfred as the sole decision-maker in levying discipline even in the absence of a criminal conviction.
This raises concerns that Manfred will hand down inappropriate punishments in isolation, like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell initially did with Rice, but MLB told HuffPost that the policy stipulates for domestic violence experts to be involved throughout their investigative, disciplinary and rehabilitation processes for players and their families -- an important contemplation that wasn't explicit in their August release. That had worried Glenn.
"I would hope that whether a domestic violence expert or expertise is lent to specific decision-making, at a minimum, he has access to those that can help him, or his knowledge base is so up to par that he can make that decision in good conscience," she said. "I really do hope that this is not a singular decision."
And it won't be, according to MLB. The league revealed to HuffPost that they've hired a full-time expert to assist Manfred and manage all of their domestic violence policies:
On October 1, we hired Ricardhy Grandoit to be MLB's first Social Responsibility Specialist. He has been training players for our Clubs from outside MLB for several years. We wanted to bring him in-house to institutionalize education and training on this important issue.
Grandoit was hired from Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, where he managed the center's gender-based violence prevention program, Mentors in Violence Prevention, to combat campus sexual assault.
With Grandoit's hire, Manfred's continued communication with experts and the policy's inclusion of a three-person grievance arbitration panel to handle appeals independent of Manfred, MLB has prepared themselves for Reyes' case, but it's ultimately up to the commissioner to not shy away from his responsibilities.
As MLB continues its internal investigation into Reyes' arrest, Glenn calls for MLB to embrace their chance to take domestic violence seriously. "[Manfred] will be tested. So will the organization. They should expect that and welcome that," she said.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
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