Mariners Kick Off Offseason with an Accusation

The Seattle Mariners’ offseason hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start. Despite a 2018 campaign that saw the team win 89 games and compete for a Wild Card spot most of the year, the club appears likely to blow up its roster, having begun the process already with a trade of starting catcher Mike Zunino to Tampa Bay. That was followed by word that Seattle planned to move ace James Paxton, who still has two years of team control left.

While bad news for the team’s short-term prospects, such deals are at least designed to maximize the long-term health of the organization. Another recent development, however, would seem to have little in the way of silver linings. As Ryan Divish reported on Monday, the team suddenly finds itself in the throes of a messy public parting of the ways with ex-employee Dr. Lorena Martin.

You may recall that Dr. Martin was hired a little over a year ago as the team’s first “director of high performance,” a position crafted to use analytics and medicine to keep players healthy. At the time, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto issued a glowing review of his new hire, as passed along by the Seattle Times.

Martin, who was the director of sports performance analytics for the Los Angeles Lakers, will oversee the organization’s medical, strength and conditioning, nutrition and mental-skills departments.

“We have spent nearly a year working on creating this position and structure as well as identifying the best person for this role,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Lorena’s background, skill set and previous experience make her a perfect match for what we envisioned.”

Despite the somewhat florid title, Dr. Martin’s role with the Mariners was fairly groundbreaking.

With the Mariners, she was put in charge of all aspects of physical and mental training for the team’s players, incorporating data from various trainers, coaches and physicians to improve performance.

“My passion for statistics derived from my desire to just want to answer a simple question: ‘What are the variables that professional athletes must have in order to become a world class athlete in their sport?’” Martin told GeekWire. “I found that I could answer my questions through research, measurement, statistics, and analytics.”

In June 2018, the Mariners were still lauding Martin and the job she was doing. In July, TJ Cotterill wrote a profile of Martin for the News-Tribune, noting that Martin had reduced the Mariners’ injuries by 50%. She received praise from Felix Hernandez, who told Cotterill that “[s]he’s made a huge impact.”

But the honeymoon didn’t last. Though Martin was signed to a three-year contract, the Mariners terminated her employment in early October. Ryan Divish relays for the Seattle Times that the Mariners didn’t believe she was as successful at changing the organization’s culture as the club originally anticipated she would be.

Martin’s presence with the major-league team wasn’t as visible as first expected. Dipoto gave her oversight over all aspects of the training and conditioning programs for the entire organization. It was was a massive undertaking.

Also, some players were slow to embrace a new style of thinking about their health, conditioning, nutrition and recovery… there were rumblings that she would have her role reduced with the big-league team and that she would instead work out of the team’s complex in Arizona, focusing more on the minor-league staff in 2019.

But on Monday, Martin posted on Instagram a different explanation for her termination.

In other words, Dr. Martin is not only alleging senior leadership used racist language but is heavily implying that she and others were terminated for reporting such language. If true, that would violate both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as Washington’s state-level Human Rights Act. And while we don’t have enough facts to know whether Martin would have standing to file suit for a racist remark if it wasn’t directed at her, terminating her for reporting that conduct is almost certainly unlawful.

The Mariners issued a categorical denial that any such racist conduct occurred.

Martin responded to the Mariners’ statement by confirming that she had, in fact, reported racist incidents to Mariners management.

Of note in Martin’s tweet here is that she provides actual names of trainers she says the Mariners terminated for reporting discriminatory statements. The Mariners, for their part, didn’t deny firing any trainers for that purpose — they denied firing any trainers at all.

So who’s right? We know that Martin didn’t pull the names out of a hat. The team’s categorical denials leave them very little wiggle room should new details emerge. Santiago, for example, was confirmed as working for the Mariners as an athletic coordinator before the 2017 season. I wasn’t able to find any public confirmation that either Santiago or Valdez were terminated, but it should also be noted that neither is listed on the team’s staff directory or coaching roster (though Dr. Martin is still listed). Martin explained her delay in coming forward as the result of ongoing negotiations.

Ryan Divish confirmed at least that such negotiations were occurring, writing that “[s]ources indicated that the Mariners are trying to avoid paying the remaining two years on Martin’s three-year contract for various reasons and that she has hired an attorney.” At the same time, Divish noted that Martin’s contract likely contained an arbitration clause, which would preclude either side from bringing a lawsuit and require both parties to present their claims to an arbitrator.

So why did the Mariners terminate Martin? At this point, we have the team saying it was poor performance and Martin saying it was retaliation for reporting racist comments. It’s also worth noting that the team, including Dipoto, has previously taken a hard line against racist comments, most notably suspending catcher Steve Clevenger without pay for tweets he made regarding Black Lives Matter. The details of this incident are still emerging. Dr. Martin went on the record with the Tacoma News Tribune Monday evening to further detail her allegations; the Mariners once again issued a categorical denial, calling Dr. Martin’s claims “fabricated,” including “her statements about reports to Human Resources and specific allegations about people named in the story.” We simply don’t have enough information at this point to conclusively determine what happened, but either way, this will be a cloud hanging over the Mariners’ already challenging offseason until we have greater clarity.





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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John Trupin
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Member

Small point – the Mariners denied terminating the contracts of any trainers “this offseason”.

That distinction, which isn’t one that Dr. Martin made, seemed to draw a strange line, considering the trainers could have easily been let go during the season, or, as is reported, not had their contracts renewed, which Ryan Divish reported as “akin to being fired.”

Link to that article here: https://t.co/0AJq0xNMVa

ice_hawk10
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ice_hawk10

there is also a difference between being fired, and simply not having your contract renewed

Anon21
Member
Anon21

There’s a difference, but they may amount to the same thing if contracts are customarily renewed. And obviously it would be reprehensible not to renew someone’s contract because that person has complained about organizational racism.

ice_hawk10
Member
ice_hawk10

yes of course. the difference says nothing about the motivations.

RoyalsFan#14321
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Member
RoyalsFan#14321

Is it reprehensible if there’s no organizational racism? The accusation is just an accusation at this point.