With MLB Policy In Place, No Fumbling Of Chapman Suspension
Late Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that new Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman had been suspended 30 games by Major League Baseball in response to an alleged domestic violence incident in October 2015.
The punishment was the first handed out by commissioner Rob Manfred under the league's new Joint Policy on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse, a policy agreed upon in August by both MLB and the players' union. The ruling is a precedent-setter, not only because it's the first or because of the unity it displays between league and union, but also because it makes clear Manfred's position on baseball's role in punishing players.
Chapman can continue to participate in spring training; the suspension will not take effect until Opening Day. The 28-year-old pitcher will lose 30 days of pay, which amounts to roughly $1.8 million, and 30 days of major league service. He will not appeal the suspension, as he noted in a statement, "The decision to accept a suspension, as opposed to appealing one, was made after careful consideration. I made this decision in an effort to minimize the distractions that an appeal would cause the Yankees, my new teammates and, most importantly, my family."
The fact that Chapman will not appeal the ruling makes a strong statement about the partnership between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA on the issue of domestic violence. That the first ruling was handed down and agreed upon without incident sets the stage for further rulings and establishes that both sides are on the same page.
Compare this case to the first domestic violence rulings handed down by the NFL post-Ray Rice. After being exposed by the Rice incident, with no clear policy to follow, Roger Goodell & Co. were left to freestyle on domestic and family violence rulings. The result? Appeal after appeal won by players such as Rice and Adrian Peterson, who proved in court that they had been punished twice for one incident.
Domestic violence cases are messy, complicated and extremely varied in scope. It's not always appropriate to apply the same discipline from one case to another. Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes, for instance, has been accused of assaulting his wife and has been put on administrative leave while his criminal case plays out in Hawaii. If he ends up being convicted, his punishment might be -- and should be -- greater than that of Chapman, even if both are first-time offenders of the policy.
The key is that having some policy in place helps the league dole out discipline and helps the players and players' association accept that discipline. MLB won't be making things up as it goes, the way the NFL did.
As for the 30-game suspension given to Chapman, it's difficult to say how many games might be an appropriate response to an incident involving an undisputed eight gunshots fired into a garage wall and the alleged choking of a girlfriend. But even if you believe 30 is too few, it's clear the ruling sent a strong message to players that an arrest or charge is not required for the league to assess discipline.
Although it shouldn't be the job of professional sports teams to police their players, they do need to take action when employees, who are representatives of their brand, engage in dangerous, criminal behavior. The court system might need proof beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty, but a league commissioner or employer does not. Especially in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, in which too often the victim is unwilling to cooperate or the burden of proof is too difficult to meet, it's important for leagues to understand that some sort of punishment is still necessary.
The specifics of the punishment are key as well. It's not enough to punish for the sake of PR, just so you might give a talented player chance after chance without the scrutiny of the public. Domestic violence experts I've spoken with say the key is to punish with the larger purpose of prevention. Simply suspending a player is not enough; there must be action taken to counsel him, to understand the root of the violence and to work to ensure it won't happen again. Here again, MLB is leading the way.
From Manfred's statement on the Chapman suspension: "I am gratified that Mr. Chapman has taken responsibility for his conduct, that he has agreed not to appeal the 30-game suspension and that he has agreed to comply with the confidential directives of the Joint Policy Board established under the parties' Policy to ensure that a similar incident does not occur in the future."
Those "confidential directives" prevent us from knowing the exact details of Chapman's discipline, but we know MLB's policy includes a treatment plan, if deemed necessary, and resources to help victims of the abuse. If teams want to continue to employ men with incidents of violence off the field, they need to devote the resources and energy to rehabilitating these men.
With each decision he makes, Manfred will shape and sharpen the league's policy and move baseball toward better understanding of, handling of and prevention of domestic violence. The Chapman ruling is an admirable first step down that path.