By now anyone reading this knows about the crisis occurring in the National Football League. I don’t intend to comment on the specifics of the problem, I write about baseball not football. But it’s the kind of crisis that can hit baseball at any time. Fortunately, Major League Baseball has managed, to some extent, to get something right when it comes to personal conduct crises. Admittedly, it was forced on them, but they did take action.
One of the complaints I’ve had for years about discipline in sports is the absolutely arbitrary nature of it. One guy gets picked up for drunk driving and loses 10 games. Another guy does the same thing and gets 15 games. Huh? And before anyone says anything, I made those numbers up for example purposes. But if you look through sport you’ll find this kind of thing happens a lot (the NCAA is particularly bad about it).
It seems to me that an easy way to stop a lot of this nonsense is for the owners and players to sit down and negotiate definable punishments for certain actions and put them in the collective bargaining agreement. MLB has done this with steroids (which is what I mean by getting something right after being forced to deal with it) and it seems to me that they could do it for other things like drunk driving, recreational drugs, prescription drugs, beating up your wife, fighting on or off the field, etc. This way the owners, the union, and the players know exactly the consequences for specific actions. Obviously there has to be nuances to it such as whether the player is only charged, or being tired, or actually convicted. Also the number of offenses of the same type, pattern of behavior, etc would need to be considered. But those can be addressed in the negotiations leading up to the agreement. Among other benefits the players know exactly what certain actions will cost them in playing time and in the pocketbook. And no set monetary amounts, make it a specific percentage of their paycheck. The idea of fining a guy $5000 when he makes $50,000 per at bat is just plain silly. The union will be off the hook also. The union looked awful when it appeared to defend the right of players to take steroids. It was their job to defend them, but looked terrible to the public. This way the union can say this action is wrong and the punishment is laid out in the agreement. And the owners get to say we’ve moved to solve these problems. To be absolutely clear, this will not change the behavior of players, but it should help both MLB and the union by giving them consistency in dealing with these type problems.
I know it’s not a panacea, but I think it will go a long way to help the players, the union, and the owners keep from looking clueless when a personal action crisis comes up. We all know one is coming (and surely more than one). It is in the best interest of the sport to develop a plan to deal with it when it comes. This could be a start, but only a start.