From the Basement: Major League Baseball strikes out with domestic violence policy

For fans of Major League Baseball, October brings an excitement and intensity that is worth the grueling 11-month wait. Players and spectators alike experience an emotional rollercoaster in the span of a few weeks, all while the pressure of a world champion title looms over their heads. But October is more than just playoffs; it is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In light of recent events, that is more relevant now than ever.

The recent event in reference is the suspension of Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell for violations of MLB’s joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy. The 40-game, unpaid suspension was the outcome of an investigation performed after Russell’s ex-wife, Melissa Reidy, detailed in a blog post her experiences of repeated physical and emotional abuse throughout the couple’s marriage.

These events were in accordance with the policy set in place by Major League Baseball in 2015. According to this policy, when allegations are made against any member of the MLB community, the Commissioner’s Office will complete an investigation. Pending the results, the Commissioner then determines an appropriate discipline for the player. Typically, this comes in the form of game suspensions and required treatment. The Reidy-Russell case followed the guidelines by the book – and that’s exactly the issue.

I hear about cases such as this one, however, and I read this policy, and I can’t help but think to myself, what is the point? How was this helpful? What good did it do?

In a situation of domestic violence, there is one aspect that is undeniably the most important, and that is the well-being of the victim. This policy, and others similar to it, fail to remember this. Sure, they include nice words about resources and support, but the procedure we often see put into practice shows little evidence of this.

For example, let’s look further into the case of Reidy and Russell.  The investigation originally began in June of 2017, when Reidy accused Russell of infidelity in a social media post, which has since been deleted, and a friend commented accusing Russell of abuse. The investigation came to a standstill when Reidy declined to talk with MLB, and remained open, with no changes, until Reidy’s blog post in September of 2018. The only thing this policy was able to offer Reidy was an investigation that would result in punishment, a decision she was completely indifferent towards.

This policy is written solely to decide the fate of the player, the abuser. It does not address in any concrete way how MLB will help the victim. This mindset of focusing on the athlete has been apparent in media coverage of the situation. Most articles, after giving a few facts, concluded with an update on Russell’s shoulder injury or projections for where he will be next season. Victims of domestic violence are broken down until they feel worthless, and when the perpetrators remain the focus of all public proceedings, it serves as a reinforcement that they are more important.

It’s time for everyone, MLB, the media, baseball fans, to stop focusing on the abuser. Reidy should have had a clear path to take within MLB to get help. Her struggle should not have been forgotten for over a year. The needs of the victim, helping her to find a safe and stable situation and offering access to a variety of resources need to become an apparent first priority both in policy and in practice. The victim is the most important person, and it’s about time we act like it.

After a long and painful journey, Reidy is happier now than she has been in years. She is living a life surrounded by those who love and support her, and she is focused now on helping others facing situations similar to her own. I hope the rest of the baseball world can learn to do the same.

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