The sports media atmosphere has been sucked up by the Ray Rice/NFL/Stephen A. Smith/etc. story of the past week. Specifically, on how awful Rice’s actions were, how the NFL’s “punishment” of Rice was laughable and how Smith’s (and others’) response to it all showed that there are a lot of messed up attitudes about domestic violence floating around the sports world.
Today Mike Bates at SB Nation notes, however, that baseball’s closet is full of all kinds of domestic violence skeletons. And what’s worse, Major League Baseball has rarely if ever done anything about it. Bud Selig has never suspended anyone for it and in only a couple of instances did teams act, issuing short suspensions in those cases. It’s an eye-opening and at times stomach-churning read.
It’s an interesting and somewhat complicated thing to compare the NFL’s and Major League Baseball’s reactions to domestic violence (or drunk driving or any other off-the-field legal and/or deportment issue). On the one hand it’s legitimate to say that the NFL is awful because (a) it chose to weigh in on the severity and moral gravity of the offense in question; and (b) in doing so, definitively stated “eh, we don’t think knocking a woman unconscious is that bad.” On the other hand, Major League Baseball has utterly failed to weigh in at all. MLB may couch it in terms of it not wanting to weigh in in an area where law enforcement treads, or it may choose to emphasize the treatment/counseling services it provides players, but make no mistake: there is an implicit fear of bad public relations and a certain brand of moral cowardice at play in MLB’s stance on these matters too. In some ways it’s the opposite of the PED thing: the NFL clearly has a problem and gets criticized for doing little to stop it, but MLB is no better and gets a pass since it keeps it all under wraps.
To be clear: the NFL does not get extra credit merely for doing something. What they did was to clearly state what its values are regarding domestic violence and those values are odious. At the same time, it’s possible that, if confronted with the same situation and inspired to weigh in, Major League Baseball would do more than the NFL did. No, there’s no reason to assume they would so in no way construe this as a defense of MLB, but they have at least taken the “it’s better to keep one’s mouth closed and be thought an idiot than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” approach.
Maybe the strongest lesson to draw from this is that, when it comes to domestic violence, racism, drunk driving or any other offenses against laws or morals, it’s best not to have video or audio tape of the incident. Because I feel like neither the NFL or the NBA would have gone as far with Donald Sterling or Ray Rice if it wasn’t for that. And I feel like, if a highly publicized and recorded incident involving a baseball player came up, Major League Baseball would feel compelled to rethink its hands-off stance.
If and when such a thing occurs, I’d be very curious to see if MLB errs on the side of severe punishment or errs on the side of leniency.