When Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig steps down this year, he will leave behind an often criticized legacy. He may also leave behind a pardon for Pete Rose, by lifting the ban imposed on him in 1989 for gambling on baseball (you heard that one, right?). The ban ending would please many and drive many others insane. What Selig will or won’t do in that situation has so far been the most talked about part of his retirement.
In his final act as commissioner, he must stand firmly against domestic and sexual violence.
At first, Selig seemed to need convincing that there’s even a problem to address.
Last week, in light of video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating his then fiancé unconscious in an elevator, Selig was asked about domestic violence in baseball.
"We haven't had any cases, I'm happy to say, in a long, long time," says Selig. "I can't remember when the last time was. I'm grateful for that,” Selig said.
The occurrence of the last incident isn’t relevant. Selig’s initial response displayed a dismissal of the reality, not to mention a short memory.
Following that weak, unfocused response, Selig announced that he will meet with members of the player’s union to discuss the implementation of a policy.
“Domestic violence is one of the worst forms of societal conduct,” Selig said in his statement. “We understand the responsibility of baseball to quickly and firmly address off-field conduct by our players, even potentially in situations in which the criminal justice system does not do so.”
Well, that’s a whole lot better.
Consider the social media policy for major and minor leaguers and a media dress code were put into place in the last few years, which I wrote about last week. Interestingly, the media dress code was issued after controversial incidents that occurred in the NFL, including one involving players in the locker room making offensive remarks to reporter Ines Sainz. The social media policy seemed to be a response to players taking to Twitter expressing whatever entered their minds, often without regard to who they might offend. MLB pumped the brakes on that as social media’s popularity increased with MLB and MiLB players. That policy was admirable, as it included no tolerance of sexist or homophobic language.
Bud Selig needs to take that stance even further.
The truth is that what Ray Rice did was easier to handle, because there was video documentation. There’s also due process. MLB can’t just react and suspend players without adhering to that. But when pitcher Josh Lueke plead guilty to a lesser charge after rape charges were brought against him, spending 42 days in jail, he was allowed to pitch again. Although the Rangers temporarily suspended him, MLB didn’t punish or ban him. He’s now in the Rays organization. Back to that Pete Rose thing. Rose is obviously lobbying out of personal interest. But he’s right that MLB is guilty of a lot of double-talk. How can they commit acts of violence, and not receive six or eight games suspension on a first offense, and be banned for life if they make the same mistake again? After all, character is one of the criteria for induction into the baseball Hall of Fame.
The policy that Selig is working on with the player's union should be comprehensive, including rehabilitation, something that also sends a message. If players are to understand their wrongdoing, insisting on counseling and public service has to be included.
Players words on Twitter or Facebook, thus far, have been classified as more concerning than acts of physical and sexual violence, which have led to arrest and incarceration. It’s hard to understand why creating a domestic violence policy wasn’t considered important much earlier than now. Obviously, these things take time and thoughtful consideration. Selig's job isn't easy, not on any of the issues he'll face or has in his time as commissioner. But the ‘don’t offend people’ message of the social media policy falls flat in light of MLB never having taken domestic violence seriously. They are way late on this. Now is the time.
Guiding young players from choosing PED’s or being offensive to others via social media were extremely important matters. But Selig can also be part of helping players make better choices as men. He can be involved in sending a clear-cut message that should players commit any act of violence against women, they will be punished. In doing that, Selig would be contributing positively to player’s lives, and the game, as he leaves his office for the last time.