MLB got it right with the Trevor Bauer suspension. Now other sports leagues should follow. | Opinion

Nancy Armour
USA TODAY
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Major League Baseball has put all the other professional leagues on notice, showing it really is possible to hold players accountable for their toxic and abusive behavior and, better yet, impose a punishment significant enough to serve as a deterrent for others.

You just need to have the will to do it.

While the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer all pay lip service to the idea that they take domestic violence seriously, either imposing inadequate punishments or avoiding doing much of anything at all, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred kicked Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer out of baseball for what is effectively three years. The two-year suspension handed down Friday afternoon is not retroactive, and the Los Angeles Dodgers star hasn’t pitched since last June.

The suspension is so lengthy it will outlast the three-year contract Bauer signed with the Dodgers in 2021, and might well end the 31-year-old’s career.

And Manfred did it without video evidence or a criminal conviction.

BAUER SUSPENSION: Appeal is happening, but there's no way back to MLB

Imagine that. Manfred believed the women who said Bauer had abused them during sexual encounters, going beyond what they had agreed to or assaulting them while they were unconscious, and punished Bauer accordingly.

He wasn’t swayed by the legalese that resulted in Bauer not facing charges, rightly understanding that a decision that a case cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt is not the same as an exoneration. He saw through Bauer’s misogynistic defense and victim blaming.

Trevor Bauer joined the Dodgers prior to the 2021 season.

Manfred treated the violent incidents with the gravity they deserved, rather than watering them down until they’re the equivalent of a drug violation. If only the other leagues would do that, society might finally see domestic violence and sexual abuse as real crimes that need to be taken seriously and have severe consequences.

Oh, they talk a good game, running PSAs and helping fund violence prevention efforts. But when it comes time to actually do something, to send a clear signal that abuse of intimate partners and children is as unacceptable as any other act of violence, the leagues have repeatedly fallen short.

It’s been nearly eight years since Ray Rice, and the NFL’s longest suspension for domestic violence since then is six games. That’s less than half the season, be it the current 17 games or the previous 16. (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell did try and suspend Greg Hardy for 10 games, but it was reduced to four on appeal.)

The list of lawsuits accusing Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct is longer than a CVS receipt and not only is he still eligible to play, he got a record-setting contract last month. Meanwhile, Calvin Ridley was suspended a year for gambling on football and Mychal Kendricks got eight games for insider trading.

Shows you what the NFL really considers important.

Willie Reed, the last NBA player to be disciplined for domestic violence, got six games in 2017. Two years later, the Miami Heat suspended Dion Waiters for 10 games for consuming edibles. Priorities!

When the Portland Timbers were accused earlier this year of burying domestic violence allegations against a star player, MLS commissioner Don Garber all but absolved the team while the league’s investigation was still ongoing. Surprise, surprise, the Timbers were found only to have failed to report the initial incident. The NHL still doesn’t have an official domestic abuse policy.

These dismissive attitudes aren’t inconsequential.

Sports has long been the prism through which we view society, helping to shape our views on important issues in a way few other things can. So when the NFL and the other professional leagues continue to have such little regard for the health and safety of women, it should not come as a surprise that the rest of society does, too.

The statistics on both reporting and prosecuting domestic violence and sexual abuse are abysmal, largely because women fear they won’t be believed. Or will be dragged through the mud in a way no other crime victim is. Or still fear their abuser.

All of these were factors in the allegations against Bauer, whose toxic views of women were not a secret.

But MLB and Manfred saw beyond that. They believed the women who said Bauer had harmed them, and deemed the abuse worthy of significant punishment. Remember that the next time the NFL, NBA or any other league is faced with an abuse case. 

Stand up for women. There's no longer any excuse not to. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

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