While Major League Baseball (MLB) and a growing number of its teams are moving towards the implementation of effective compliance and ethics programs within their organizations, some questions are being raised about whether certain components of these programs are actually working, particularly as pertains to the consequential issue of domestic violence. Developing the integral elements of a compliance program is certainly essential but it does not in itself equate to effectiveness. Rather, the true value is derived from an organization’s implementation of compliance best practices and its reduction of the incidence and likelihood of an event occurring and when it does occur, you deal with it to prevent it from happening again.
But first, let’s give credit to MLB’s action taken over the past few years which has laid the groundwork for the establishment of effective compliance programs for the League and its 30 member teams:
- MLB has and continues to conduct a thorough risk assessment to determine the primary risks to the League and its member teams.
- While the ingestion by players of performance enhancing drugs no longer threatens the integrity of the game in the widespread manner it did in the past, MLB recognizes it remains a risk and continues to implement a strong anti-doping policy.
- On a similar note, MLB and its players have implemented a joint drug prevention and treatment program in response to players using unprescribed opioids and other illegal drugs.
- MLB recently also took significant action addressing pitchers using banned substances to alter the movement of the baseball.
- Following the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 within the Miami Marlins baseball team, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that MLB would be requiring each team to designate a compliance officer. These compliance officers are responsible to ensure that players and team staff adhere to the League’s health and safety protocols as detailed in its manual for play during the pandemic, including new guidelines following the outbreak within the Marlins. Presumably, the success of these newly dedicated compliance officers will lead to teams expanding the officers’ job descriptions into other more traditional areas of managing compliance and ethics risks.
This action is all positive. But clearly, based on the proliferation of cases recently reported, domestic violence and sexual harassment and abuse have become the most significant compliance risks for MLB. To its credit, it has taken some steps to address these subjects:
- It has updated its workplace Code of Conduct and made clear its expectations concerning sexual harassment, discrimination and domestic violence.
- Anti-harassment and discrimination training along with training on MLB’s new landmark joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy has been the focus of expanded training for players and team personnel. Commissioner 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.” Tony Clark, Executive Director of the Players’ Association said in a statement, “Players are husbands, fathers, sons and boyfriends. And as such want to set an example that there is no place for domestic abuse in our society. We are hopeful that the 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.” Under baseball’s collectively bargained policy, players undergo mandatory domestic violence training once a week during spring training.
- MLB has established a hotline for people not employed by the League to report harassment or discrimination in response to former New York Mets General Manager Jared Porter and former Los Angeles Angels Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway being accused of sending lewd text messages to female reporters. While it appears that MLB has not yet expanded the hotline for use by players and other employed personnel, its Code of Conduct directs them to make MLB or the team aware, either through a supervisor, human resources or the legal departments, of reports of wrongdoing. However, absent a hotline being available for players and team personnel, such individuals are reluctant to report incidents without being able to do so anonymously.
- MLB maintains its own program for conducting investigations of harassment, domestic abuse and other wrongdoing by players and team personnel and works with law enforcement on such matters when appropriate.
- MLB and the Players’ Association have formulated a Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy and Program which provides for investigation of incidents, discipline, treatment and intervention, and return to active status and other matters.
Since March 1, 2016, an astounding number of players – at least 13 – have been suspended by MLB for domestic violence with suspensions ranging from eight games to a full season (162 games). Further, the incidents of domestic violence involving MLB personnel is undoubtedly higher, as studies have shown most incidents of domestic violence are never reported to the police. However, this does not mean that MLB’s domestic violence program is not effective – it simply means that it could be improved. Clearly, the steps MLB has taken to address domestic violence issues within its ranks are monumental, especially for an organization often criticized for its slow response to serious problems it has encountered in the past. The reality is there is no process that cannot be made better – the essence of a great program is continuous improvement.
Oftentimes when organizations do not achieve the desired results of their compliance programs, management engages a third-party to conduct an independent evaluation of the program and its effectiveness and to make recommendations for improvement. Perhaps it is now time for MLB and the Players Association to consider such action, especially as they grapple with the very troubling allegations against 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher, Trevor Bauer.