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IS S&M A SUFFICIENT REASON FOR MLB TO PUNISH BAUER?
Venturing down new, sordid roads in the halls of justice, a judge ruled that the pitcher’s accuser in an assault case agreed to rough sex, making it more difficult for MLB officials to suspend him
At this stage, with no criminal charges filed and Trevor Bauer owning a courtroom record of 1-0, Major League Baseball faces an extraordinarily grotesque decision in sport’s long, seamy history of off-field conduct cases.
Bizarre as it sounds, can commissioner Rob Manfred suspend the pitcher because he partook in mutual S&M with a woman who seemingly tried to shake him down for money afterward? And might Thursday’s favorable ruling for Bauer, in Los Angeles Superior Court, have immediate implications regarding who wins the World Series — knowing that his return would give the Dodgers a rotation of dominant starters perhaps unmatched in a baseball postseason?
Not that this is a sports story. Stunningly, it’s a landmark development in the #MeToo era, centered around a judge, Dianna Gould-Saltman, who did not routinely favor a female accuser in a high-profile case. She ruled that a 27-year-old woman from San Diego was, in effect, reckless in text messages to Bauer that encouraged rough sex on two occasions. Despite bruises in photographs that Bauer inflicted, the judge denied the accuser’s request for a restraining order, ruling Bauer “did not coerce her or threaten her into sexual activity’’ and that she “wanted rough sex in the first encounter and rougher sex in the second.’’
Said Gould-Saltman: “If (the accuser) set limits and he exceeded them, this case would have been clear. But she set limits without considering all the consequences, and the respondent did not exceed limits that the petitioner set. … When a woman says 'no,' she should be believed. So what about when she says 'yes?’ ’’
For perspective, I refer to Chuck Rhoades, who participated in regular S&M sessions with his then-wife, Wendy, in the TV show “Billions.’’ I know little about it, and, chances are, you are no more informed. But read up. That’s what the Trevor Bauer case is largely about, here in our insane 2021 world.
It remains to be seen how the decision will impact ongoing investigations by MLB and police in Pasadena, Calif., where the encounters took place in Bauer’s home. But if Manfred assumed a restraining order would provide leverage to run Bauer out of the sport and allow the Dodgers to recoup much of the $102 million they’re paying him, the case has become much more complicated. If there are no criminal charges against Bauer, MLB would have to rely on its own probe — self-serving and biased, one might argue — to take formal disciplinary action. Or, Manfred could transfer the decision to the Dodgers. But will owners Mark Walter and Todd Boehly, who urged team president Stan Kasten and baseball chief Andrew Friedman to sign Bauer last offseason, now use the court ruling as justification to bring him back, try to overtake surprising San Francisco in the division race and become the sport’s first repeat champion in 21 years?
Fascinating, isn’t it? We’re about to find out if a team victimized in the 2017 World Series, by the electronic sign-stealing scandal of the Houston Astros, will take on scandalous baggage itself — and a hypocrisy tag. The Dodgers might not have a choice but to invite back Bauer if a legal definition of consent, in the collective mind of team management, overrrides the bodily damage that he readily inflicted in what his attorney, Shawn Holley, described as a mutually approved, rough-sex “continuum.” Yes, it’s beyond repulsive — psychotic, actually — that Bauer would assault a woman on command because she asks for it in texts.
But here is where S&M — sadism and masochism, for the uninitiated — enters the mind-boggling discussion. “Literally translated, those terms mean taking pleasure in inflicting pain and taking pleasure in experiencing pain,” said certified sex coach Michele Lisenbury Christensen, defining the meaning for Health magazine. According to a recent study by Canadian researchers — and I quote the Fatherly.com site — “Nearly 47 percent of the women and nearly 60 percent of the men said they had fantasized about dominating someone sexually. Slightly more women, and slightly less men, were into the idea of being dominated.’’ I highly doubt their desires equate to full-on punching and choking to the point of unconsciousness, as Bauer is accused, but a Kinsey Institute study of American adult behavior says “20 percent like to play with restraints and 13 percent dabbled with whips and floggers.’’
So, maybe S&M is more common than we thought. Will Manfred understand any of it when he has enough problems running a troubled sport? Holley took time to explain from Bauer’s perspective, saying, “When you engage in this milieu, you are entering into a danger zone. And the best you can do when you enter into an encounter is to have as much of an understanding of the other person as possible. It is hard to have a meeting of the minds when one of the people has sent their fake ambassador to the negotiating table. He doesn’t know her, all he can presume is to do what she wants and don’t do what she doesn’t want.”
The accuser’s attorney, Lisa Helfend Meyer, furiously disagreed. “Trevor Bauer is a monster,” she said. “He was aggressively abused as a child. As an adult, he became the abuser. He stalks his victims through the Internet. … A person who is unconscious cannot give consent, and more importantly, even if given beforehand, cannot be withdrawn because they are unconscious. There is no doubt that sex when someone is unconscious is not consensual. And even if it was, a person cannot consent to being assaulted.”
But among other texts — including those to friends and her Alcoholics Anonymous counselor that she intended to exploit Bauer financially — the accuser informed Bauer after the first encounter to “gimme all the pain’’ in the second encounter. It’s frightening that any human being would respond in kind, but he did … because she said she wanted it.
Said Holley, who successfully portrayed the accuser as someone trying to get her financial “hooks” into Bauer, to use the woman’s word in another of her texts: “She presents an incredibly misleading account of what happened between them. ... The way she describes what happened and what she leaves out completely changes the narrative and the truth.’’
In her closing argument, Holley said of the rough sex, “I'm sure it was painful and unpleasant for her. And it is unfortunate. But she asked for these things."
What can be — and certainly should be — debated is whether the woman agreed to monstrously violent activity, the wicked bruises and the blood. But what can’t be denied is that she was seeking a payout. Whether MLB will take that into account is unclear. Maybe Manfred will set a precedent about rough sex and careless associations in suspending Bauer.
I would expect the commissioner to do as he always does. He’ll dab his finger, stick it in the air and see which way the winds of public opinion blow. Will he dare to side with a judge who can be perceived as victim-blaming? “I don’t understand in the year 2021 how anyone can make those kinds of statements,” Meyer said of Holley’s commentary. “This isn’t the 1950s.”
But it IS 2021, when apparently anything is possible, even the absurdist notion of Trevor Bauer pitching the deciding game in the World Series. So much for the Field of Dreams.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes sports columns for Substack and a Wednesday media column for Barrett Sports Media while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.