The recent spate of high-profile domestic violence cases involving Ray Rice and other NFL players prompted Major League Baseball and the players union to open talks about the way that sport should deal with such episodes.
Even though their collective bargaining agreement lasts through 2016, representatives of MLB and the MLBPA were scheduled to meet Friday to begin negotiations that could continue for several weeks, or even months, to establish new policies and punishments for domestic violence.
Like baseball, other top professional sports organizations surveyed by The Associated Press — including the NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA Tour and ATP — have rules covering inappropriate or criminal behavior away from arenas but do not address domestic violence on its own.
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”Creating policies that are clear and consistent, and also provide support services, is what these leagues need to do. I was encouraged by Major League Baseball’s (step),” said Esta Soler, president of Futures Without Violence, a national group that works to prevent domestic and sexual violence and child abuse.
Soler said MLB reached out to her organization’s San Francisco office this week.
”It’s always better to be proactive than reactive, and some of the issues are coming out while we’re having this public conversation because of what’s happened in the NFL,” Soler said. ”It’s much better to have clear guidelines, both in terms of whether somebody gets arrested and also, more importantly: How do you prevent domestic violence from happening to begin with?”
Attention to the issue rose considerably last week, when videos surfaced showing Ravens running back Rice knocking out his then-fiancee — and now wife — in a casino elevator; originally suspended in July for two games, he was cut by the team and indefinitely barred by the NFL. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted last week on felony child-abuse charges and deactivated by the team, then reinstated, then placed on a special list that allows him to get paid while not playing. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy also went on that list while appealing a domestic violence conviction. Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was deactivated after being arrested on aggravated assault charges. San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald, meanwhile, continues to practice and play while being investigated on suspicion of domestic violence.
”’You can play,’ ‘You cannot play’ — it’s so inconsistent,"’ Soler said.
Baseball’s CBA includes a voluntary treatment program for certain alcohol-related and off-field violent conduct. It also allows the commissioner or a team to impose discipline, but doesn’t say of what sort, if a player is charged with a crime ”involving the use of physical force or violence, including but not limited to, sexual assault, domestic violence, resisting arrest, battery, and assault.”
”We view today’s meeting as an important first step in working with the commissioner’s office to address all of the issues connected to domestic violence,” MLB Players Association spokesman Greg Bouris wrote in an email Friday.
In a statement issued by his office this week, Commissioner Bud Selig said: ”Domestic violence is one of the one worst forms of societal conduct. 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.”
The NBA’s labor contract says a player convicted of a violent felony is subject to a minimum 10-game suspension for a first offense (which, in an 82-game season, is equivalent to a two-game ban in a 16-game NFL season). There is also a process for clinical evaluation and counseling if there is off-court ”violent conduct,” which includes domestic violence.
The NHL’s commissioner can discipline players for actions ”detrimental to or against the welfare of the league or the game of hockey” on a case-by-case basis.
Similarly, NASCAR’s rule book has a section covering violations and disciplinary action, including penalties that can be determined ”by the gravity of the violation and its effect on … the interests of stock car racing and NASCAR.”
In golf, PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said an act of domestic violence ”would be treated as conduct unbecoming a professional golfer and would subject the player to our disciplinary process.” Because the PGA Tour does not publicly announce when it disciplines players for any reason, it isn’t known if any player has been penalized for domestic violence.
In men’s tennis, the ATP rule book has a section on ”major offenses” covering ”aggravated behavior” and ”conduct contrary to the integrity of the game,” allowing for fines of up to $100,000 and/or suspensions of up to three years for ”a player, or related person, charged with a violation of a criminal or civil law of any jurisdiction.”
The governing body for college sports, the NCAA, lets individual schools determine domestic violence punishments. In one example from college football this week, West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley faces an indefinite suspension after being arrested and accused of grabbing a woman around the neck and shoving her to the ground at a nightclub.