Brock Turner, Aroldis Chapman mark busy year for sports legal landscape
It was a big year for celebrations and homecomings in sports -- the Rams returned to Los Angeles, the Cubs finally killed the curse and LeBron James brought the Larry O'Brien Trophy to Cleveland.
But 2016 was also significant for sports' legal landscape, particularly as it impacts women. And the changes will resonate in 2017 and beyond.
In no particular order, here are 2016's biggest legal events that had the greatest impact for women -- good and bad.
MLB domestic violence policy
This year, Major League Baseball applied its domestic violence policy when commissioner Rob Manfred handed down a 51-game, unpaid suspension to infielder Jose Reyes on May 14. Reyes was arrested for allegedly attacking his wife back in October 2015; albeit he wasn't convicted after his wife wouldn't cooperate.
Two other players have seen the force of MLB's domestic violence policy. Reliever Aroldis Chapman was hit with 30 games for allegedly choking his girlfriend (the first time the league applied the policy), and free agent Hector Olivera was issued the longest suspension yet at 82 games after a misdemeanor assault conviction.
So far it seems the commissioner is taking instances and allegations of domestic violence seriously. But it also appears that the taint of a domestic violence suspension isn't hitting players too hard, at least where talent abounds. Things have been fruitful for Chapman post-suspension: The Cubs took him in a deal from the Yankees; he helped Chicago win the World Series; and on Dec. 15, he inked a deal to return to New York on a record five-year, $86 million contract -- the largest ever paid to a reliever.
The MLB domestic violence policy is still new. Just three players have been suspended under it. With that said, we'll have to see if this multigame suspension trend continues next year.
Baylor sexual assault scandal
Throughout 2016, Baylor has had to answer for its mishandling of sexual assault cases. Early this year, ESPN's Outside the Lines reported allegations that the Texas private Baptist school failed to respond to claims that football players and other students were involved in sexual misconduct. By late May, several school officials, including head football coach Art Briles, were out of a job.
An internal investigation by the law firm Pepper Hamilton revealed numerous instances of alleged sexual misconduct and the football program's alleged failure to issue an appropriate response. Baylor officials revealed that, since 2011, at least 17 women had reported sexual or physical assaults involving football players, including four gang rapes. Baylor's Board of Regents held Briles responsible, dismissing the coach who had eight years left on his 10-year deal.
Briles reportedly entered a multimillion dollar agreement with Baylor to settle the dispute regarding the remaining pay left in his contract, but he has yet to land another coaching job. In December, Briles filed a lawsuit against four Baylor officials for defamation and other claims.
Meanwhile, Baylor has settled several lawsuits brought by the football players' alleged victims. Currently, four federal Title IX lawsuits are pending against the school, and three of the suits involve allegations against those who played under Briles.
The ripple effect of Baylor's revelation is clear. In February, for example, Yale expelled senior Jack Montague, captain of its basketball team, after administration concluded that he raped a fellow student. Recently, University of Minnesota officials acted swiftly in suspending 10 football players in connection with a sexual assault allegation and claims of retaliation, despite prosecutors opting not to press charges.
In 2017, we may see more schools taking prompt action when faced with sexual assault allegations given the climate created by Baylor's scandal.
In December, the long-awaited footage of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon decking a fellow female college student emerged. The July 2014 surveillance tapes showed Amelia Molitor exchanging words with Mixon before pushing the 6-foot-1, 226-pound athlete in the chest. He responds by lunging toward her, receiving a punch to the neck in response. Mixon counters with a haymaker, laying out Molitor and breaking four bones in her face.
The public response was mixed: Some felt Molitor deserved what she got for initiating the attack on Mixon, and others felt Mixon used more force than necessary to stop her. Regardless of the response, neither Oklahoma nor local prosecutors found his behavior acceptable. Mixon served a one-year suspension from the football program at the time and agreed to accept a deferred one-year sentence -- under the law in exchange for 100 hours of community service.
Sooner coach Bob Stoops said on Dec. 21 that, in hindsight, he would've dismissed Mixon from the team had the incident happened today. Stoops appeared to recognize that standards have changed -- i.e., that since at least 2014, when Oklahoma suspended Mixon for knocking out Molitor, there's more awareness about violence against women.
Ivy League suspensions
In 2016, athletic programs at elite institutions set new precedent in communicating that demeaning women wasn't acceptable.
In November, Harvard cancelled its men's soccer team's season after the school discovered team members created "scouting reports" that rated the women's team by appearance. A few weeks later, Columbia responded in-kind when sexually explicit and racially offensive text messages were found circulating among its wrestling team. By December, Amherst -- sometimes known as a "Little Ivy" -- suspended its men's cross-country team. Princeton did the same for its men's swimming and diving teams for sharing misogynistic material.
Several of the programs had found that their respective men's teams had been collectively objectifying women for some time. Why no action was taken until late 2016 is not clear. But we can hope that schools, elite and otherwise, will make efforts to defend the dignity of female athletes and students into 2017 and the future.
Stanford convicted rapist Brock Turner
The case of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who raped an unconscious 22-year-old college student behind a dumpster on the college campus in January 2015, was truly harrowing. The three-time All-American swimmer was convicted of three counts of felony rape, which carried a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. But, on June 2, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to probation and just six months in jail. Turner served three.
Stanford responded swiftly following Turner's arrest by banning him from campus indefinitely within two days, and then permanently within two weeks. Turner withdrew from the program, avoiding academic disciplinary action. He also was banned by the U.S. governing body for swimming.
Turner's lax punishment induced outrage that invoked a change in California law that we'll see in the New Year. On Jan. 1, 2017, individuals convicted of raping an unconscious or intoxicated person in California will have to serve a minimum of three years in prison.
Derrick Rose civil rape case
The civil rape case against Derrick Rose captured headlines in the fall and underscored the many reasons why rape victims don't come forward against their accused.
In Rose's case, his former girlfriend sued him and two of his friends for allegedly gang raping her in her Los Angeles apartment in August 2013. She brought a civil suit for $21.5 million instead of pursuing criminal charges against the new Knicks guard. Rose admitted to group sex but denied the rape allegations. After a two-week trial, a California federal jury found Rose and his friends not liable for the alleged rape.
Notwithstanding the verdict, the trial itself brought out disheartening behavior, ranging from victim-shaming tactics in the courtroom to threats against the accuser on social media. While Rose was entitled to defend himself and to put on a case, much of the unnecessary antics employed at trial and in the media may discourage victims from pursuing their rights in the future.
Josh Brown Suspension
If Ray Rice started the conversation on domestic violence in the NFL, Josh Brown's case reminded us that it must continue.
On Aug. 17, the NFL quietly issued Brown a one-game suspension after he was arrested for attacking his wife in May 2015. Only later did it become evident that the now-former Giants kicker avoided the baseline, recommended six-game suspension because the NFL failed to dig further after Brown's wife refused to cooperate (an unfortunate, but typical response, by some victims).
Evidence of Brown's abusive history was easily attainable. There were publicly available police reports of at least eight physical assaults and court documents containing Brown's admission to having abused his wife and women for decades. Yet neither the New York Giants nor the league uncovered what was arguably in plain sight.
Instead, the Giants stood by Brown until the organization could no longer withstand the weight of public pressure. Brown was released just a day after Roger Goodell moved him to the commissioner's exempt list.
While the NFL owners and executives expressed displeasure with the league's response, they did so solely behind closed doors. That is often where most domestic violence occurs. Hopefully, in 2017, the league will make advances in bringing abuse to light and ensuring NFL players answer for it, regardless of whether the victim cooperates.