Rays, MLB should speak up on Dukes

Published May 27, 2007

I've been working for a domestic violence and rape crisis center for almost eight years. I have been a fan of Major League Baseball since the Tigers won the 1968 World Series. From the perspective of a baseball fan and a victim advocate, the criminal behavior of Elijah Dukes leaves me shaking my head in wonder and disappointment.

First of all, Dukes' behavior crosses the line any way you look at it. His pattern of behavior has been well established. The police are still determining if charges should be filed, but common sense says that if his behavior is not illegal, it is certainly very scary, inappropriate and harmful.

But let's set Dukes aside for a moment. He's been handed chance after chance and hasn't figured out a way to change his behavior. Perhaps he's simply unwilling to change his behavior. Major League Baseball has handed him a winning lottery ticket and he is in the process of crumpling it up and tossing it away. If it weren't for the fact that so many children and women have been neglected and hurt by his actions, I probably wouldn't care what he does with his life.

My question is this. Do the Devil Rays or Major League Baseball have a role to play beyond simply kicking him out? Is there any way they could or should contribute to the dialogue beyond the usual "wait and see" approach? Yes, I believe there is.

I'll admit that they're in a tough spot. We all want to give each other second chances (which Dukes has clearly used up) and certainly the Devil Rays and MLB don't want to get ahead of law enforcement. I don't know about you, but I really like the idea of being innocent until proven guilty. We've heard statements from the Devil Rays, "The Devil Rays organization takes these types of allegations very seriously, but at this point it remains a private matter between Elijah and his family. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide ongoing assistance to Elijah." Well, okay, but is there a social obligation to say or do more? Again, yes, I believe there is.

In addition to what they've already said, how about adding something like this: "While this organization finds it appropriate and necessary to leave the final say to law enforcement and the court system, let us be clear; this organization is not interested in tolerating violent behavior from any of our players, particularly violence toward women and children. This organization expects our men to behave like men on and off the field. Real men don't threaten or abuse women and children. If law enforcement and the court system determine that such behavior is coming from any of our players, they will no longer be welcome in this organization."

Some may say that it is not the team's role or obligation to take a stand. I disagree. Baseball is not just a simple diversion. Baseball is iconic. It's cultural. We often use apple pie, hot dogs and America in the same sentence. Baseball has become meaningful in ways so big that it's difficult to describe. Baseball is America's pastime in ways that other sports have yet to achieve. Baseball broke the color line. When Pete Rose and Denny McLain let us down, we felt betrayed.

Having said this, the Devil Rays and Major League Baseball should and could take an important stand in ways that no other sport has managed to and perhaps wasn't able to. (Remember Michael Pittman and the Bucs?) Major League Baseball has an opportunity to show the kind of character and ethic that resides in the hearts of real men.

Real men don't hit or threaten women. Real men love and support their kids financially even if they don't live with them. Real men control their behavior, even at their angriest. Real men try to be better after they've had a bad day. Imagine the good such a statement from MLB would do.

For more information on what domestic violence is and why women sometimes choose to stay with partners who abuse them visit www.fcadv.org. Twenty-four hour help is available at the Florida Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-500-1119.

Larry Reidt is a victim's advocate at the Sunrise of Pasco County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center.