MLB needs to change their domestic violence culture if there’s any hope

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It’s July 1, which means it’s the day that San Francisco Giants’ president and CEO Larry Baer is returning to work. Baer was suspended through the end of June for attacking his wife in public, on camera, and while charges weren’t pressed against him, MLB has the power to hand out suspensions all the same, which tends to be useful in situations like this one.

There were and are more significant questions with regard to MLB and domestic abuse, and Baer’s abuse of his wife, than whether or not this suspension was long enough. As Hannah Keyser asked back in late-March when the suspension was first handed to Baer, who called the attack “a mistake”:

What does Baer think that mistake was? How and when was he persuaded to see it that way after initially telling the San Francisco Chronicle that, “My wife and I had an unfortunate public argument related to a family member and she had an injured foot and she fell off her chair in the course of the argument. The matter is resolved. It was a squabble over a cellphone”? Generalizing the altercation as an uncharacteristic outburst in the heat of the moment fails to acknowledge what was so chilling about the video, which is the lack of kindness and concern Baer displayed toward his spouse.

I understand that you can never know the degree to which another person is truly contrite or even empathetic. And a system in which we don’t even consider the moral compass of a figure in the public sphere until a video of them appears on TMZ is an inherently flawed one.

But it would help me — to sleep at night, to enjoy Giants games, to continue to have faith in the human capacity for growth — to know if Larry Baer understands that his callousness toward his wife as she called out for help was deeply disturbing, regardless of how she ended up on the ground.

Does Baer know what it is he did wrong? Does he understand why he was suspended? Is he a changed man after his suspension who recognizes there is a darkness inside of him that needs to be dealt with? Regardless of whether the answer to any of those questions is yes or no, Baer is back at work, making decisions for the Giants once more. That’s upsetting, both to not know if the suspension was mostly a extended vacation for a rich guy or if he’s learned a single thing in the time he had to reflect.

The thing is, there is no real incentive to learn and grow if you’re a domestic abuser in MLB. Look no further than Addison Russell for that, who, through his own words since returning to baseball following his own suspension, has framed himself as the victim who has had to overcome his absence from the game. And Russell gets an assist from those even within baseball on that note, that helps reinforce his misguided point of view.

Here’s a short video of Reds’ announcers Thom Brennaman and Jeff Brantley talking about Russell just this past weekend. Brennaman describes Russell as “one of the most interesting players to watch, through the rest of this year and really moving forward,” and that it’s because of a combination of all of the talent he displayed in the minors, as well as the “domestic situation” and suspension for said “situation.” Brennaman — and Brantley, too, who participates in this conversation with a discussion of overcoming those “obstacles” through the power of mental toughness — can’t even call Russell’s suspension-causing activities, i.e. the domestic abuse, both physical and mental, he inflicted on his ex-wife, what it is. It’s referred to as a “situation,” and the suspension something that Russell had to “suffer” through. Russell, the one who, again, abused his wife both physically and mentally for years, is the victim here, and this isn’t even the Cubs’ announcers saying so.

There’s so much focus on Russell’s potential and talent in that short video, too, as if the real issue here is that he just hasn’t had the time to flourish because of “outside” distractions. There’s something oddly terrifying about this, because he’s not and has never really been that good at baseball, and yet he has legions of people ready to give him every possible benefit of the doubt with regard to domestic violence. I’m not saying better players should get the benefit of the doubt or anything like that, far from it: it’s just that you’d assume these levels of support would go towards stars instead of literally anyone in a baseball uniform. And yet here we are, with ready-made excuses for someone who is mostly living off of the prospect ranking he used to carry.

Why should Baer or Russell or any of these guys feel compelled to change their behavior or feel moved to even understand why they were suspended when not only is their job sitting here waiting for them when they get back from a suspension, but too much of the league is willing to rewrite the past and make the abuser the victim of their story? If you’re Addison Russell, and you’re already something of a self-absorbed and violent asshole — hey, don’t leave the receipts lying around everywhere if you don’t want to be thought of as such — then why would you change when any part of the world is telling you that you’re in the right, and you’re the victim here? Fans do this for players, too, and the media too often covers for abusers because they know how to play baseball, so between that, Russell’s stans in the Cubs universe, and people like Brennaman and Brantley, why would Russell or Baer even think they need to change or learn or grow?

Longer suspensions aren’t the answer, at least not on their own. MLB needs to educate, reeducate, reprogram, treat, whatever you want to call it. What about Russell’s behavior indicates that he won’t abuse more women in the future? I don’t have the degrees to answer that question scientifically, but just as someone who knows what words mean and what they imply, about the only thing Russell seems to have learned is that next time, his abuse probably needs to be more subtle. MLB isn’t doing enough now, not to the abusers, not to the culture they exist within, and the cycle isn’t going to break so long as this is the case.

MLB doesn’t bear the brunt of all of societies’ woes, of course, but they are a massive company in the spotlight, with no shortage of talent to turn to that probably isn’t abusing their partners or ready to come up with excuses for those who do. They can stand to move into more thorough rehabilitation, therapy, counseling, education, and more in order to actually attempt to change men like Russell and Baer and the men who back them up. Because if MLB (and the Players Association) don’t, then who is going to?

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