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How effective is Major League Baseball’s new Domestic Violence Policy?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016 By Tony Iliakostas

Domestic violence has unfortunately had a very unwelcome stay in American sports for decades. This has been amplified in recent years by the high profile Ray Rice case, and the National Football League’s poor handling of that situation. As a result, major sports leagues in the United States have taken concerted efforts to enforce a zero tolerance policy in sanctioning players involved in domestic violence disputes.

One such league is Major League Baseball (MLB), which made history in August of 2015 by shaking hands1 with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) on a Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy (the “Policy”); a league-wide policy aimed at facilitating methods to allow the league to more effectively combat these issues. MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, has been rigorously enforcing the Policy since its implementation, revealing both its strengths and limitations. 

This article explains how domestic violence is addressed under the Policy, examines recent and ongoing cases, and offers the author’s opinion on the Policy’s effectiveness from the evidence to date.


How the policy works

The Policy implements four principle categories:

  1. Treatment and Investigation;
  2. Investigations;
  3. Discipline; and
  4. Training Education and Resources.

Under the Policy, a player who is involved in a domestic violence dispute is subject to an investigation by the MLB Commissioner’s Office. The Commissioner himself does not initiate the investigation. Rather, he delegates the entire investigation to a team responsible for gathering evidence. This evidence may be gathered independently or with the cooperation of law enforcement officials who are privy to the matter on the criminal end. The player may also be questioned during the course of the investigation, at which point he is afforded the right to legal representation.

A player being investigated may be placed on paid administrative leave for up to seven days while any allegations against the player are investigated. Once the investigation is complete and findings are rendered, the Commissioner has the full-fledged authority to sanction the player for as little or as many games as he’d like based on the findings from the investigation. This very open-ended sanction gives the Commissioner total authority to decide how he punishes a player. However, because this is a new policy for MLB, there is no precedent.

The Commissioner’s punishment is mutually exclusive from the player’s fate in the criminal justice system. Whether there are no charges made against the player, the player pleads guilty to a crime, the player is found not guilty, or the player is convicted makes no difference to how he may be treated under the Policy. It’s also important to note that under the Policy, the investigation does not commence until the matter is completed under the criminal justice system.

Once a player learns about his sanction from the MLB Commissioner, he has the opportunity to appeal and have his case heard before an arbitration panel.

Perhaps most importantly, MLB provides victims of domestic violence resources, including access to a 24-hour domestic violence hotline. Likewise, the MLB domestic violence policy ensures that all players are educated about sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence.

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Written by

Tony Iliakostas

Tony Iliakostas

Tony Iliakostas graduated from New York Law School in 2014 focusing his studies on sports and entertainment law and intellectual property law.  While in law school, he founded the sports law web-show "Law and Batting Order," a weekly show that discusses legal developments in the world of sports.

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