Josh Hader, Punishment, and Redemption

Josh Hader is a lefty relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. You know this; you read this site. Josh Hader has had, statistically speaking, an awesome season. You don’t accidentally strike out 17 guys per nine — in this case, better than half of all batters he’s faced. And Hader seems to have embraced a role of which other pitchers might be wary of great. So it wasn’t surprising when Jon Heyman tweeted this:

By now, you probably know the rest of this story. During the All-Star Game, whilst Hader was in the midst of a surprisingly poor performance on the mound, Hader’s high-school record suddenly came back to light. As the Washington Post’s Kevin Blackistone explained,

Tuesday night’s revelation [was] that Josh Hader, one of the pitchers showcased in Major League Baseball’s 89th All-Star Game, was a serial hate tweeter as a star athlete at Old Mill High School in suburban Baltimore’s Anne Arundel County.

It’s probably important before continuing to understand what kind of hate, exactly, we’re talking about. (Warning: the content is pretty offensive.)

Hader Tweets

What we have here is unmistakably racist, homophobic, antisemitic, and misogynistic hate speech. And that doesn’t happen by accident, either.

Much of the coverage of Hader’s past has focused on the fact that the tweets were from 2011 and 2012. Fancred’s Jon Heyman characterized the Hader situation this way:

[W]hile Hader deserves our immediate scorn for his vile words, no one should give up on him. He hasn’t been known to exhibit any bad behavior around the Brewers, and it’s possible he was just an idiot as a kid (some of the tweets are believed to have been taken from a rap song, but that’s really not much of an excuse).

He seems child-like now, so I can only imagine what he was like as a 17-year-old. Perhaps he has matured a lot since.

And while there was some thought MLB would suspend Hader, he instead was ordered into sensitivity training.

Here’s MLB’s complete statement:

During last night’s game we became aware of Mr. Hader’s unacceptable social media comments in years past and have since been in communication with the Brewers regarding our shared concerns. After the game, Mr. Hader took the necessary step of expressing remorse for his highly offensive and hurtful language, which fails to represent the values of our game and our expectations for all those who are a part of it. The Office of the Commissioner will require sensitivity training for Mr. Hader and participation in MLB’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Hader has apologized, both to his team and to the public:

Which, more or less, brings the situation to the present moment. It appears as though sensitivity training will represent the extent of MLB’s intervention in this issue. Like others, though, I was curious if other options were even on the table. Accordingly, I’d like to address two questions here, both (a) could MLB discipline Hader for actions of seven years ago and, if so, (b) at what kind of punishment could they hypothetically arrive?

As to the first issue, Article XII(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement states that a player “may be subjected to disciplinary action for just cause by his Club, the Chief Baseball Officer or the Commissioner.” The question is whether Hader’s tweets constitute just cause for discipline. In a vacuum, they clearly are. The uniform MLB contract, for example, cites “good sportsmanship” in one passage:

Loyalty

3. (a) The Player agrees to perform his services hereunder diligently and faithfully, to keep himself in first-class physical condition and to obey the Club’s training rules, and pledges himself to the American public and to the Club to conform to high standards of personal conduct, fair play and good sportsmanship.

And “good citizenship” in another:

[Termination] By Club

7. (b) The Club may terminate this contract upon written notice to the Player (but only after requesting and obtaining waivers of this contract from all other Major League Clubs) if the Player shall at any time:

(1) fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship or to keep himself in first-class physical condition or to obey the Club’s training rules; or

(2) fail, in the opinion of the Club’s management, to exhibit sufficient skill or competitive ability to qualify or continue as a member of the Club’s team; or

(3) fail, refuse or neglect to render his services hereunder or in any other manner materially breach this contract.

Hader’s tweets are clearly examples of neither.

And yet… they were from 2011 and 2012, when Hader was a teenager, before he was drafted, before he was a minor leaguer, before he was a member of the Astros’ farm system or the Brewers’ varsity club. (Hader was drafted in June of 2012 by the Orioles. Because he locked his account soon after his tweets became publicly circulated, it’s not clear if he any of his comments were published in June of later.) From a legal perspective, that matters. Disciplining an employee for conduct performed before he’s been hired is a dicey proposition any time it isn’t an at-will relationship. (That’s one reason employers conduct background checks.) That’s because you can’t breach a contract by something you do before a contract is formed.

There are exceptions, naturally — lying or active concealment, for example. (That’s called “fraud in the inducement.”) So if the Astros or Brewers asked Hader if he’d ever made racist tweets, and Hader said no, then there would be grounds both for discipline and potential rescission (cancellation) of the contract by the Brewers.

On the other hand, as noted above, it’s not entirely clear that Hader’s conduct was limited to the period before he was signed. (Furthermore, Hader attempted to dismiss his comments as “some rap lyrics being tweeted.” As the Daily Beast’s Corbin Smith points out, the notion that a tweet featuring just “KKK” or “white power” with a clenched fist represents an example of rap lyrics is improbable.

Hader’s attribution of his comments to rap lyrics appears, at best, to be a weak excuse. And that’s a charitable interpretation. At worst, they’re intentionally misleading — and, if that’s the case, then that is actually something for which both MLB and the Brewers can discipline Hader. Now, there are explanations for this, too. Maybe Hader was embarrassed. Maybe Hader is reluctant to make unqualified apology. We’ve all said things that were stupid, of course. On the other hand, we all have not voiced support for white supremacy and then blamed that support on rap lyrics. And that’s important to note. Hader was not simply advocating for different political views — he appeared to be celebrating a philosophy that advocates racial genocide.

So whereas sensitivity training may be sufficient punishment for the tweets of seven years ago, there’s also the question of what punishment, if any, is appropriate for an apology that quite possibly misrepresents the reality of the situation. In the law, punishments are determined by looking at precedents, parallel situations which came before. But there are no real analogues for this situation. Yunel Escobar was suspended three games for writing a homophobic message in his eye black, but that was while he was playing. Yulieski Gurriel was suspended five games for a racist gesture directed at Yu Darvish, but that, too, was during a game. Some have compared Hader to John Rocker, whose ability to throw 95 mph allowed him to survive for years as the Braves’ closer despite making comments even more racist than Hader’s. But even Rocker eventually faced discipline, in the form of a 28-game, 73-day suspension in 2000; Rocker became the first player ever suspended for public racist comments. And while Rocker’s comments didn’t occur during a game, they were published in a Sports Illustrated interview with Jeff Pearlman after he’d already reached the big leagues.

Perhaps the most analogous situation involves Steve Clevenger, who was suspended for the remainder of the 2016 season for racist tweets calling black youth “thugs” and targeting Black Lives Matter, among others. But even Clevenger’s case isn’t a perfect comparison. On the one hand, Clevenger, too, made racist statements on Twitter and was suspended after apologizing; on the other, Clevenger made those statements during a major-league season. And two other factors that are important to note: Clevenger made the statements on a protected account, so they could only be seen by followers. And Clevenger wasn’t suspended by MLB at all. Instead, he was suspended by the Mariners.

That latter point is important. Hader was disciplined under the Commissioner’s “just cause” authority, but the Brewers have separate authority to discipline Hader. That dual system exists across most professional sports; just last week, the Miami Dolphins announced a policy to suspend for four games (a full quarter of the NFL season) any player who doesn’t stand for the national anthem.

So could MLB, or the Brewers independently, suspend Hader? Almost certainly yes. Even if he could not be punished for the 2011 tweets, any tweets from after the June draft in 2012 (should they exist) and his “misattribution” of “white power” and “KKK” to rap lyrics are punishable both by the Commissioner under the CBA and by the Brewers under the model contract. How do we know? Rocker’s suspension was eventually overturned on appeal — reduced from 28 games to 14 and the fine from $20,000 to $500. But the arbitrator, Shyam Das, found that while there was a cap on fines for off-field behavior, unpaid suspensions for off-field speech, even speech unrelated to baseball, were not in violation of the CBA. In other words, there is ample precedent to support a suspension should the Brewers or MLB decide to impose one.

But it’s doubtful the Brewers are going to suspend him. In his first appearance for the Brewers following the All-Star game, fans at Miller Park gave him a standing ovation. And some of his teammates, including players of color, supported him.

And Lorenzo Cain added this to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy:

“He’s young, we all say some crazy stuff when we’re young,” said Cain. “That’s the reason I don’t have social media, things like this. You always get in trouble for things you say when you’re younger. We’ll move on from it. The situation is what it is. I know Hader, he’s a great guy. I know he’s a great teammate. I’m fine. Everybody will be OK. We’ll move on from it.

“At the end of the day, we’ve all said crazy stuff growing up, even when we were 17, 18 years old. If we could follow each other around with a recorder all day, I’m sure we’ve all said some dumb stuff. We’re going to move on from this.”

Asked whether Hader specifically apologized, Cain said, “I didn’t ask for an apology. I wanted to understand the situation before I talked to you guys. … I heard about the hate comments, that’s all I heard. We’ll talk more about it once we get on the plane.”

Josh Hader apologized to his teammates, yes. They accepted that apology, yes — and all we can do is take his teammates’ support at face value. It’s at least worth acknowledging, however, the awkward position in which those teammates have been placed. Hader is, by most metrics, the best relief pitcher in the game and the most dominant left-handed reliever since Billy Wagner. The Brewers, a team in contention, want him on the field, because the step down from Hader to a replacement-level reliever is massive, perhaps the largest in baseball. It’s why the Yankees feel comfortable with Aroldis Chapman. It’s why the Blue Jays have no plans to trade Roberto Osuna. It’s worth asking: did Hader’s teammates accept him because he apologized or because his talent is integral to helping the club earn a spot in the postseason? Would the Brewers — or their fans — accept Hader back if he were pitching like the 2018 version of Brad Brach?

My point here, ultimately, is not that Hader should be run out of baseball. It’s not even that Hader should be suspended, really. But it’d be ideal if there were a resolution to this that ultimately left all parties better off, that helped improve our collective understanding of the pain and fear such vile sentiments can produce. Hader’s conduct to date doesn’t promise that kind of resolution, but there is time for that to change. Jeff Pearlman ultimately never felt sorry for publishing his piece on Rocker. Ideally, looking back on this moment in the future, it will be viewed as transformative and not indicative of worse things to come.

We hoped you liked reading Josh Hader, Punishment, and Redemption by Sheryl Ring!

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Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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caponehollywood
Member
caponehollywood

I really don’t think Chapman deserves to be in the same sentence as Osuna. Those are two entirely different situations.

That said while I think the Hader situation is being handled appropriately by the ballclub and MLB, I thought it was a really gross display by Brewers fans to give him an ovation after coming off the mound the other day. It’s one thing to absolve him for the tweets he made, but him apologizing and “making things right” does not mean that anyone should be showering him in praise like that. Not to mention all the people applauding were white & middle aged.

Really embarrassing look for Brewers fans there.

6er
Member
Member
6er

Giving a standing ovation for doing the right thing in correcting something you did wrong does seem counterproductive!

t
Member
t

I don’t know if any other team’s fans would be different but I thought the same thing about the ovation Ryan Braun got after his suspension. Especially considering the way he slandered the poor tester after the first time he got caught but got off on the technicality.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I don’t know if there’s a lot of logic in the ovations (both this one and the Braun ovation t mentions). I think it was just a “hey, this guy is under siege, we just want to let him know we support him.” I cannot imagine it’s logical enthusiastically support a guy in response to the guy’s white power tweets.

Which–quite frankly–I find kind of disturbing as well. It’s one thing to brush it under the rug and cheer for him as if nothing happened, figuring the apology is enough. It’s another to give him a standing ovation.

3cardmonty
Member
3cardmonty

Houston gave a standing o to Gurriel as well after the Darvish thing. It’s disgusting and embarrassing.

casey j
Member
casey j

I like it. I disagree. The love and power and emotional connection to athletes is very strong. Fans and players share that with applause. We KNOW these are athletes, not special people., or even particularrioy good people. Its a way of saying “we get it, we have fucked up” some of us aren’t even great people, but lets forgive, get away from political shit, and lets play ball

Brewtown_Kev
Member
Member
Brewtown_Kev

I stand with those Brewers fans who stood up and showed support for a guy who’s being dragged through the mud by the “gotcha” media, which sees what it wants to see (“Hader is a racist!”) by reading a high schooler’s tweets out of context, despite ample evidence that they don’t represent his actual true beliefs or character (judging by the reactions of his teammates and friends who know him far better than any of us do, and by the fact that high school kids say all kinds of stupid and outrageous things to each other to get a laugh).

soddingjunkmail
Member
soddingjunkmail

Out of context? Puh-leeeeze.

Please provide this missing context you speak of for “I hate gay people” that makes it cool to say.

Brewtown_Kev
Member
Member
Brewtown_Kev

Cool to say? Puh-leeeeze. Don’t put words into my mouth.

The things he said are not ok, and nobody is arguing otherwise.

However, I think the context is very important when sanctimonious folks like you want to jump to the conclusion that these words can only be illustrative of what Hader truly believed or who he was as a person. If he was being sarcastic and/or joking with his friends (as he clearly was in most, if not all of these tweets) then the messages can’t simply be read at face value. That doesn’t make them ok, but it might make your full blown witch hunt, based upon what are probably incorrect assumptions, more than a little out of bounds.

calebw
Member
Member
calebw

It’s not a witch hunt. Dude posted that he hates gay people and believes in white power. People called him a homophobe and a racist. This is not a witch hunt. Witches are not real. The question of punishment is another issue, but take off the homer glasses.

Saying things that are widely accepted to be racist is racist. Context matters in terms of identifying the best way toward reconciliation, but there’s no witch hunt here.

Brewtown_Kev
Member
Member
Brewtown_Kev

Wrong.

“Saying things that are widely accepted to be racist is racist.”

Have you ever watched stand up comedy? Is Dave Chapelle a racist? People say things all the time that they don’t mean literally when they are trying to get a laugh. Even stripped of its context, the tweet “(Fist Emoji) white power lol” is clearly meant to be a joke. What else do you suppose the lol means? It’s a bad joke, perhaps, but almost certainly not an indication of his true beliefs. This is what I’m talking about in terms of context.

You folks that want to run Hader through the ringer on this are doing so based upon something that isn’t actually there (like a witch): your hasty conclusion that Hader’s tweets are an indication, at face value, of his true beliefs. That conclusion says more about you, in terms of your inclination to instantly believe the worst about people, than it does about Hader. This is a persistent problem that we face nowadays in our twitter mob culture.

And the same dynamic is at play in your reaction to Brewers fans and their show of support for Hader. You hastily conclude that the ovation was a show of support for the content of Hader’s tweets when it was nothing of the sort.

calebw
Member
Member
calebw

The problem is the facile idea that each person should only be held accountable for their “true beliefs” that they may or may not express through their intentional actions. How you act is a part of who you are even if it doesn’t reflect your “true beliefs”. As for whether jokes are racist, I agree with your argument that context matters. When white rising star athletes tweet out KKK as a joke, they are being racist (and perpetuating white supremacism). When Mel Brooks portrays the KKK in Blazing Saddles, he’s being satirical. But when comedy is done poorly, there no reason it can’t be racist…in fact, racist jokes are a key element of making clear who does or doesn’t belong in a certain space.

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

I stand with the groups of people Hader spewed hate toward, because what kind of message does it send to them if I give the guy a standing ovation?

I’m OK with accepting Hader was just a really dumb 17 year old, even if he did lie about the tweets being lyrics to a rap song. That said, what an awful look for Milwaukee fans, and what an awful look for baseball.

Brewtown_Kev
Member
Member
Brewtown_Kev

I suppose the conclusions you base your comment upon—that his comments are actual hate speech, and that he tried to lie about them—are supported by assertions made in the article above, but they’re not supported by a fair and reasonable look at what actually happened. But go ahead and assume what you mistakenly believe to be the moral high ground.

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

Oh, hey Brewers fan. I’m perfectly capable of reaching my own conclusions. It seems we differ significantly regarding what a fair and reasonable look consists of. My fair and reasonable look is fairly impartial. I don’t have any particular feelings toward the Brewers. I find what your fan base did to be in poor taste.

casey j
Member
casey j

Giving a person an ovation makes that person FEEL GOOD. Its an expression of love. The guy did something shitty, and his fans… in his city… gave him some love, some support for a human who is going through a tough thing now. We all fuck up. I disagree with your assessment