By Alexandra Del Vecchio – Thompson Rivers University JD Student
In August 2015 Major League Baseball (MLB) and the MLB Players Association proudly introduced their Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The policy provides avenues for the MLB to deal with instances and accusations of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse by its players. It has been widely reported that discussions with respect to this new policy began, and were treated as a priority, in light of the various issues faced by the National Football League in recent years. In particular, the Ray Rice incident and the league’s handling of that situation is said to have accelerated MLB’s discussions of the policy.
The new joint policy has many interesting aspects. The MLB commissioner is granted considerable authority under the policy; he is responsible for investigating accusations of this nature, has the ability to put the player on paid administrative leave during the investigation, and the task of setting an appropriate penalty where warranted.
Notably, the commissioner’s imposition of a penalty is not governed by limitations, penalties are not dependent on criminal conviction, and the player’s team is not involved in penalty decisions unless asked. The policy also purports to take a comprehensive approach to addressing these accusations; the MLB has noted that the policy protects the legal rights of players, treats violations seriously, holds players accountable with appropriate means and perhaps most importantly, provides resources, such as a 24-hour helpline, for the intervention and care of victims, families and the players.
While the policy has encountered some criticism, its announcement has generally been met with a great deal of positivity and optimism. The MLB and MLBPA have also been applauded for both their collaboration and proactivity. It cannot be denied that the introduction of this policy is, at minimum, an important step in addressing these issues. It certainly seems as though the MLB is at least prepared to take a strong stance on these matters. That said, thus far the utility of the new policy has remained untested.
On October 31st, Jose Reyes was arrested in the state of Hawaii. It has been reported that Reyes is charged with abuse of a family or household member; he is alleged to have assaulted his wife while the couple was on vacation. Reyes is a shortstop for the Colorado Rockies. And so, we will now see the new measures in action; Reyes will be the first MLB player dealt with under the new joint policy. In reference to this matter, the MLB has commented that it understands the seriousness of the issues and harms of domestic violence, as evidenced by its policy. The MLB’s current commissioner Rob Manfred has indicated that an investigation, pursuant to the policy, is now underway. He has also acknowledged that this will be the policy’s first test and expressed his confidence that it will withstand that test.
It will undoubtedly be interesting and informative to watch this matter unfold. The MLB treatment of Reyes will provide a strong indicator of how seriously they intend to treat these types of issues and it will surely set the tone for its future application. Though the MLB & MLBPA have presented themselves as being serious about the issues and harms of domestic violence by implementing the policy, due to the vagueness of its investigation and penalty procedures there are some concerns.
While the policy and these aspects of it could allow the MLB to take a strong stance on Reyes actions, the opposite is also true. As the policy contains no guarantees or guidelines regarding the investigation, who is to say it will be sufficiently thorough or unbiased? Further, absent guidelines or limitations around penalties, should findings warranting a penalty be made, there is not guarantee it will be met with something truly meaningful.
But with any luck, these concerns will be proven unnecessary. As the Reyes investigation and the commissioner’s response to it unfold, hopefully the positivity regarding this policy will remain intact as the MLB proves it is as serious about these issues as their policy suggests.