The Senate will hold a hearing about domestic violence in professional sports


The issue of sports leagues’ handling of domestic violence incidents specifically and off-the-field malfeasance of players in general has hit the news in a big way in recent months.  Don’t think Congress hasn’t noticed:

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today announced a full committee hearing on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at 2:30 p.m. titled, “Addressing Domestic Violence in Professional Sports.”

The hearing will examine the current policies of the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) with regard to domestic violence. Specifically, the hearing will examine how those policies deter violent acts, promote awareness, provide due process, and punish those who commit acts of domestic violence. The hearing will also examine future policies that are being considered for implementation.

Congress, of course, quite famously involved itself in performance enhancing drugs beginning about a decade ago. Domestic violence is certainly more serious a transgression than performance enhancing drug use. But the way in which private businesses deal with it is no more part of Congress’ bailiwick than PEDs are. Which is to say, none, really, and it’s probably worth noting that a large part of anything Congress seeks to do involving professional sports and the entertainment industry has an element of grandstanding to it.

And even if that isn’t the motivation here, it’s probably worth noting that Congress’ work on PEDs and baseball pushed the league into launching the Mitchell Report and implementing a drug testing regime as a means of escaping further Congressional scrutiny. Those efforts — particularly the Mitchell Report — were reactive and poorly thought out, at least initially, quite possibly because they were undertaken under pressure. To this day we’re still dealing with absurdities and inefficiencies in the process that were, at least in part, borne of Congress’ meddling and Baseball’s fear of ignoring additional meddling.

One hopes that isn’t the same case here. Especially considering that Major League Baseball appears to be working on the matter of domestic violence without said pressure at the moment (it’s motivation is not noble, of course; it’s likely geared toward the avoidance of the NFL’s P.R. disasters, but it is working). And because these hearings are likely to treat domestic violence in this context as some special thing caught up in professional sports when, in reality, one of the biggest problems is that athletes and leagues seem to be held to considerably lower standards than the public at large when it comes to this sort of crime.

We at HBT have advocated for Major League Baseball to establish a policy regarding how to deal with off-the-field misbehavior and illegality. We hope the league does so. It’s hard to see, however, how Congress wading into all of this will be helpful in that regard.