August 24, 2015 by peterott
New MLB Domestic Violence Policy
On Friday, August 21, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) jointly announced a new sweeping player conduct policy. This policy covers domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. It is comprehensive in many ways, covering more than just punishment.
The new policy provides for treatment and intervention by a Joint Policy Board, comprised of experts in the fields of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, as well as representatives from the player’s association and the commissioner’s office. It provides for training, education and resources for players, including a confidential 24-hour hotline staffed by experts that is available for players and their families and a program for community outreach. In these ways, this program seeks to prevent abusive behavior and to help victims recover from abuse.
In addition, the agreement provides for the exercise of wide-ranging investigative and disciplinary powers by the Commissioner. During an investigation, the Commissioner may place a player on paid administrative leave for up to seven days before making a disciplinary decision. Perhaps the most notable part of the new agreement is that there is no maximum or minimum penalty stipulated by the policy. Instead, the Commissioner is empowered to issue the discipline that he feels is appropriate based on the severity of the violation. This broad discretion leaves open the possibility of arbitrariness in the issuance of discipline. However, this arbitrariness is somewhat counter-acted by the ability of a player to challenge his discipline before an Arbitration Panel, consisting of a representative of each party and an impartial arbitrator agreed to by both parties.
Most importantly this new conduct and disciplinary policy was agreed to by both the league and the players’ union, standing in contrast to the development of similar policies in other leagues (or the imposition of unilateral discipline in absence of development of a comprehensive policy). A comparison of the policies of other leagues follows.
In August of 2014, the NFL announced a new domestic violence policy offering stiffer penalties than had previously existed. However, this policy was promulgated without the input of an NFL Players Association representative, and the players union has been adamant about defending its players’ due process rights in disciplinary cases. After NFL owners approved the policy, the union forcefully responded, noting that they “… [had] not been offered the professional courtesy of seeing the NFL’s new personal conduct policy before it hit the presses.” While during previous collective bargaining the NFLPA allowed the NFL to have unilateral control over discipline not explicitly covered in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFLPA clearly believes that it should have been consulted during this process. Certainly from a public relations standpoint, it could not have hurt to reach out to the union while formulating this policy. Notably, NFL Commissioner Goodell’s disciplinary decisions have been repeatedly overturned or reduced by judges or independent arbitrators (see Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson). Developing a disciplinary plan in conjunction with the players association could have possibly prevented challenges to disciplinary actions being brought against these players.
The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement only contemplates a minimum 10-game suspension of a player following conviction for a violent felony, prompting many to question what kind of discipline would be handed down in the case of a player committing domestic violence or child abuse. Commissioner Silver acted quickly to suspend player Jeff Taylor 24 games in response to his pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence assault in November of 2014. This forceful response was praised by many, but appears to be in excess of the power contained in the CBA, and the union was ready to appeal the decision. However, Jeff Taylor simply apologized and decided not to appeal the lengthy suspension. Because of this, the status of future players who commit domestic violence, etc. is still in question in the NBA, barring a future agreement between the league and the union.
Policies in other leagues are similarly hazy, leaving uncertainty in the handling of cases in the NHL and MLS. The lack of clear programs negotiated by leagues and their associated unions leaves all parties in a disadvantageous situation. Most importantly, lack of a negotiated disciplinary system leaves victims of domestic abuse, child abuse, or sexual assault feeling unprotected. These issues are important and coming up with a reasonable disciplinary plan for dealing with them should be a top priority for all leagues and players associations. Kudos to MLB and the MLBPA for negotiating this program. The lack of firm standards for punishment is a clear flaw in this particular program. However, the fact that a negotiated and facially legitimate program in place is an important step. Other leagues should follow the MLB’s lead.