Mickey Callaway is fired and banned, but will anything else change?

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Mickey Callaway was finally fired by the Angels and punished by MLB for alleged sexual harassment of a number of women. It took forever for both the Angels and MLB to come to a decision on this, which is strange considering that, not only did The Athletic thoroughly report on five different women coming forward back on February 1 — a report that included not just what the victims said but actual evidence of Callaway’s harassment — but there was also a follow-up report that showed Callaway’s teams and MLB were previously aware of his behavior. The only surprise for MLB and Callaway’s employers about five women coming forward might have been that it was just five:

Since the publication of The Athletic’s first article, more women have come forward to say that Callaway made them uncomfortable by sending them inappropriate messages and/or photos, making unwanted advances and more while they worked for the Indians. Additionally, in 2017, an angry husband repeatedly called the team’s fan services department to complain that Callaway had sent “pornographic material” to his wife. Those calls were brought to the attention of Antonetti, manager Terry Francona and general manager Mike Chernoff; the Indians spoke with Callaway about the matter. A Cleveland attorney spoke with the wife and said – in a phone call that was recorded – that Callaway had expressed remorse to him. The attorney added that “the Indians are frickin’ pissed as hell” at Callaway and offered to have Francona call the husband. Additionally, an MLB security official contacted the husband and told him: “Mickey wants this all to go away,” and the husband later emailed MLB directly about Callaway.

Over the past month, The Athletic has interviewed 22 people who interacted with Callaway during his years in the Indians organization, including 12 current and former employees. They say that Callaway’s sexual indiscretions permeated the workplace to such an extent that it would have been difficult for top officials to not be aware of his behavior, and they push back against any assertion that Callaway’s actions, when made public by The Athletic last month, caught team executives or MLB by surprise.

Callaway was suspended when the story was first reported, at least, but it was pretty clear the only option here was to fire him, so the delay in getting to that point is still confusing. MLB ended up including “at least” 50 interviews in their investigation, more than twice as many as The Athletic did for this sequel story, and that significant volume of folks is either a reason to feel like MLB is actually taking this seriously beyond just punishing one individual, or it’s just them making sure they fully cover their collective asses. Did they talk to enough people to make sure everyone was on the same page and this would all go away, or to figure out how many people helped Callaway get away with his harassment of a number of women and then tell them to knock it off or there will be consequences for them in the future, too? It’s hard to tell: MLB is opaque about their problem solves on a good day, never mind when it comes to punishment. The league loves to make larger issues seem simple by punishing an individual, without necessarily doing the work to solve any larger culture problem. Will Callaway be a similar situation?

That was my fear back in late-February, when the Mariners forced CEO Kevin Mather to resign. Mather didn’t resign because of his own harassment — Seattle helped protect him through that — but because he said the quiet part loud about service time manipulation, among other things, in a video that went viral on social media. The Mariners didn’t change anything about their plans to manipulate service time just because Mather got caught explaining said plan. They just got rid of Mather and then proceeded as planned. That’s how teams and the league tend to deal with whatever issue comes up:

There is individual accountability in MLB, but only if you get caught. Structurally, you can do just about anything you want to, so long as it doesn’t make a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Sexually harass others? Just make sure you don’t get caught in a way that can’t be quietly pushed aside, and your career will be fine. Be a complete dingus with hateful political opinions who sends harassment dogpiles after randos on Twitter? Well, at least you pitch well sometimes, here are giant stacks of money. Commit domestic abuse? Well, so long as you’re sorry, even if what you’re mostly sorry for is that you were caught. Don’t worry, MLB’s good old boys will protect you and your reputation, whether it’s from the front office or the announce booth. And those front office folks will be fine, so long as they don’t yell in the face of women reporters about how awesome it is to have a domestic abuser on the roster.

MLB’s entire culture, from basically every angle, is garbage. The league’s answer to everything is to dismiss or briefly punish anyone caught doing enough wrong that the public notices and cares, and to do nothing of substance to actually address the behaviors themselves, not on any kind of structural level. Mather isn’t likely to be some turning point, just like the firing of Porter and Ellis and, eventually, Callaway aren’t likely to be some kind of turning point. He’s just another individual that benefited from a system that’s working the way it’s designed to, until his behavior became a liability.

It’s unclear if Callaway is banned just until the 2022 season, or if he’s actually banned for life but MLB is going to take it one year at a time. That they, a league that does not have a handle at all on getting sexual harassment out of the workplace beyond removing the individuals who push so far that they end up having exposes on their behavior written up, are the ones who will get to decide if Callaway is remorseful enough or a changed enough man, is not exactly promising.

Now, MLB might have finally realized, after the breadth and depth of investigation that became necessary to see just how much harassment Callaway was responsible for over the years, that they need a more significant, cultural change, to treat the root causes of harassment instead of just the symptoms. I am… not optimistic that this is what is happening, though, for the same reasons I don’t trust MLB to fix any of their other problems in need of fixing. With sexual harassment, especially, it’s not just an MLB issue, but a corporate one, a problem of the patriarchy and power structures and capitalism and good ole boys clubs and so on. It’s pretty easy to see them do the bare minimum — remove those who have profiles written up on them — and expect praise for doing that much without changing anything else about their culture. Probably because that’s how things have been going so far. Clearly, more is needed, to keep these instances of widespread, unchecked harassment from occuring in the first place. There are other Callaways out there, and those need to be similarly taken care of, but stopping the rise of new Callaways is the most important thing MLB can do.

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