Obviously all the details and information you’ll want about the whole Ray Rice thing can be read over at PFT. Now let’s think about what this all means for Major League Baseball.
As we and many others noted back in July, Major League Baseball has never suspended anyone for domestic violence. Some individual clubs have, but there is no league policy or protocol. Nor is there one for drunk driving or any number of other crimes that don’t relate to the sport on the field. The league has decided, for whatever reason, that it doesn’t want to tread there. Maybe it’s because it’s complicated — Do you punish based on an arrest? A conviction? All crimes? Just some? — or maybe because there is a lack of will and nerve. I’m sure there are a lot of answers to that question, several of which have a grain of truth.
But if the Ray Rice situation serves as a lesson to league leadership — over and above the obvious lesson of violence against women being abhorrent and all-too-common — the lesson is that you do not, under any circumstances, want to be in the business of reacting to situations like these as opposed to dealing with them in an orderly and reasoned manner. When you react you will inevitably look as horrifyingly out-of-touch and cynical as the NFL looks here. When an organization has no official and guiding principles, organizational impulses to try to limit damage at any cost and miss the vast forest in front of it because of one bothersome p.r. tree in front of it come to the fore. It’s all that there is if there is no policy. It, along with hubris, is how an organization as powerful as the NFL found itself in a position where it had to plainly lie and claim that allegedly newly-found video tapes mandated Ray Rice’s suspension and dismissal as opposed to the video tape actually seeing the light of day.
The NBA learned this lesson with Donald Sterling. Major League Baseball learned it for years and, in many ways, is still paying the price for it when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. If you wait for a fire to break out in your house before thinking about how to put it out, you’re gonna get burned.
Baseball needs to think hard about changing this. It needs to sit down with union leadership and figure out some policies about how to punish off-the-field behavior just like any other organization with high-profile employees placed in positions of trust might punish employees for such behavior outside the workplace.
Doing so will show that the league has standards and ethics regarding the sort of people it wants within its select ranks. Doing so in conjunction with the MLBPA will ensure a situation where litigation and acrimony are largely absent from future disciplinary acts. Doing so before the next player gets arrested for a heinous and unacceptable act will ensure that Major League Baseball does not look as tone deaf and horrible as the NFL looks today.
And — I hope this goes without saying — doing so will help show people that violence against women is wrong in any and every context.