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Jose Reyes Is Baseball's Test Case on Violence

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Are sports leagues finally "getting it right" on domestic violence policy?

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball placed Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes on paid leave "pending completion of his criminal proceedings in Hawaii." Last fall, Reyes was arrested and charged with assaulting his wife, who suffered injuries to her leg, neck and wrist. According to Hawaii News Now, Reyes's wife told police he grabbed her by the throat and pushed her into a sliding glass door. Reyes has pleaded not guilty and is set to face trial April 4, which is also Opening Day for the Rockies.

Reyes is the first player sanctioned under MLB's new domestic violence policy, enacted in August. (In fact, he'll be the first player the league has disciplined at all for domestic violence in the last 25 years.) He'll sit out while collecting his $22 million salary until the trial and the league's separate investigation are done, after which Commissioner Rob Manfred will decide if he warrants further penalty. It's a good first step for the league in executing its new policy that accomplishes the very first thing leagues repeatedly, inexplicably get wrong: taking the player off the field.

He hasn't been found guilty of anything, so his right to earn a living remains intact. But at the very least, Manfred can remove Reyes's presence from the game while investigating him, signaling to his accuser and accusers everywhere that at least someone is listening. (I felt that the NHL should have done the same with Patrick Kane amid sexual assault allegations.) 

But again, this is just the very first step in this process. Manfred is basically working with a blank slate, and any moves going forward will undoubtedly set the tone for how MLB will treat domestic violence accusations for years to come. Manfred also has two pending cases to decide on -- New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and Los Angeles Dodgers rightfielder Yasiel Puig -- both of which will likely come under even more scrutiny given the teams and the media markets in question.

The players' union won't appeal on Reyes's behalf, but is "closely monitoring" the situation and will intervene "if further discipline is issued, or if Mr. Reyes' paid suspension is not resolved in a timely fashion." As I wrote at the time the new policy was enacted, Reyes does have the right to an appeal, overseen by a league representative, a union representative and a neutral third party. Unlike NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Manfred does not act as "judge, jury, and executioner," a testament to the MLB union's capacity to protect its workers' rights.

It will be interesting to see how harsh a penalty Manfred hands down, if any, should Reyes be found guilty at trial. But it would perhaps be more interesting to see what would happen if he's not. The major challenge leagues face in disciplining players for criminal acts like domestic abuse is that the burden of proof in the courtroom is so high that the lack of a conviction doesn't necessarily confer a lack of guilt. The Ray Rice outcry has caused leagues to take it upon themselves to separately assess legal guilt and offense, launching investigations independent of law enforcement and doling punishment outside a judge or jury. If, after speaking to the accuser, reading the police reports and examining all the evidence, MLB decides Reyes is worthy of some additional form of punishment, regardless what the court decides, it would set an important precedent showing that baseball is, indeed, committed to getting it right.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net