Has MLB truly become a business with a social conscience?

Beyond Sport United 2015

By Derek Helling

Like the United States completely changing course from the isolationist foreign policy that it enacted after World War I to entering World War II when it was forced to by the attack at Pearl Harbor, Major League Baseball’s history of handling player conduct issues has largely been a matter of reacting to incidents as they arise.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association didn’t have a joint drug policy until the scandals of the 1990s arose, an era during which we still don’t know exactly how widespread the use of substances designed to enhance the performances of players was. Similarly, the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and other ventures weren’t undertaken until the exodus of African-Americans from the sport became blatantly obvious.

Child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault unfortunately aren’t new issues in our society, but they have been the subject of more deep and frequent discussion in the realm of professional sports recently. This has largely been due to the poor choices of players in the National Football League. Comparatively, MLB has had relatively few issues.

Regardless of the fact that these issues haven’t been a black eye on MLB yet, it announced a new policy covering those issues yesterday with the MLBPA. The policy sets up clear protocol for how such situations will be handled going forward. Hopefully, the disciplinary steps laid out in the policy will be such that will never have to be enacted. The community outreach and education planned as part of the policy are good for the general public and the league’s public relations. The resources that will be made available to players and other league/team employees could prove invaluable.

Is this a sign that under Rob Manfred, the days of assuming everything is fine and continuing along until something blows up are over? If this pattern of acting proactively about instead of in reaction to issues continues in other areas, then we can say yes. If not, then this is simply a matter of MLB covering itself against future incidents.

The league still has other issues facing it. The RBI program is addressing the game’s unfortunate but real migration to a sport which is out of the reach of those of lower socioeconomic status, whatever their ethnic/racial background. It’s not doing enough to curtail, much less reverse that trend, however. There is still a gross disparity in gender when it comes to executive front office positions. That disparity grows even more stark when talking about religious diversity in the game as a whole. Muslims are non-existent in the sport, despite constituting a growing portion of the population in Canada and the United States.

Whether or not we are truly seeing a new, socially-conscious, proactive MLB is still up in the air. If the practice of enacting a policy to combat an issue before it becomes a real problem becomes a trend, then we can say yes. If this is the extent of that situation, then all MLB has done is follow the advice of the acronym “CYA.”

You can find Derek on Twitter @dhellingsports and join in the discussion @CTBPod or on our Facebook page.

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