Major League Baseball can suspend players with pay when legal charges are pending in "exceptional cases" under a new domestic violence policy signed Friday.
The 13-page deal signed Friday by the league and players' association, which followed a series of high-profile domestic violence cases involving NFL players, allows the baseball commissioner to issue discipline for "just cause," the same standard used under the sport's collective bargaining agreement. Discipline is not dependent on a criminal conviction.
"Major League Baseball and its Clubs are proud to adopt a comprehensive policy that reflects the gravity and the sensitivities of these significant societal issues," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "We believe that these efforts will foster not only an approach of education and prevention but also a united stance against these matters throughout our sport and our communities."
The commissioner can place a player accused of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse on paid "administrative leave" for up to seven days before a disciplinary decision, which can be appealed to the sport's arbitration panel, chaired by an independent arbitrator. The commissioner also may defer a discipline decision until the resolution of criminal charges.
Suspensions that are upheld are without pay, and there are no maximum or minimum penalties. Players will not receive service time for the period of the suspension.
Players can be suspended with pay in "exceptional cases" while criminal charges are pending if the commissioner determines "allowing the player to play during the pendency of the criminal or legal proceeding would result in substantial or irreparable harm to either the club or Major League Baseball." If the discipline becomes an unpaid suspension, the player has the right to offset the time served against the penalty but must repay any salary he received from his team during the paid suspension.
The deal creates a joint policy board to provide treatment, which could include mandatory counseling and psychological evaluation. Three experts will serve on the board along with two members appointed by MLB and two by the union, and one of the experts will submit a proposed treatment plan to the full board for approval. Players who fail to comply with their treatment plan may be subject to discipline.
"Players are husbands, fathers, sons and boyfriends. And as such want to set an example that makes clear that there is no place for domestic abuse in our society," players' union executive director Tony Clark said in the release. "We are hopeful that this new comprehensive, collectively-bargained policy will deter future violence, promote victim safety, and serve as a step toward a better understanding of the causes and consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse."
Previously, the labor contract included 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 didn't say of what sort, if a player was 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."
Following the decision by Alex Rodriguez to have outside lawyers of his choice handle the arbitration of his drug suspension two years ago, the agreement includes a provision that the player and union can be represented "only by in-house counsel of the players' association and/or by outside counsel appointed by the players' association."