MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Anti-hazing, anti-bullying policy appropriate

Anti-hazing, anti-bullying policy appropriate

Once upon a time, it was a sort of inside joke among teammates. At least that's how we convinced ourselves it was OK. At times, though, it crossed a line and became the inappropriate joke you laughed at anyway because, well, everyone else did.

Besides, who knew? That was the larger point. If veteran baseball players ordered their rookies to dress up as, say, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders or Hooters waitresses for one plane ride a season, what difference did it make?

Everyone had a few laughs, and that was that. You could convince yourself it was innocent even if it wasn't always. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that.

Here's guessing that most players were unbothered by the whole experience. If just one was, that's one too many. Now there are going to be limits to what players can and can't do to their teammates in the name of hazing.

Bravo.

The Associated Press reported Monday night that Major League Baseball's new labor agreement includes an Anti-Hazing and Anti-Bullying Policy.

According to the AP report, the new policy prohibits "requiring, coercing or encouraging" players from "dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristic."

Before someone complains that this is political correctness run amok, let's be clear about the new policy.

Baseball is not banning rookie hazing. Got that?

That's not what this is about. If veterans still see it as a team bonding experience or as a way to have a few innocent laughs, knock yourself out.

Want to dress the rookies up as Batman or Superman? All yours. Spiderman? No problem there, either. Remember that one year Madison Bumgarner boarded a flight dressed as a giant ketchup bottle? That one is still a go.

Also, if Yasiel Puig wants to dress up a rookie as Gumby -- which he was -- he's free to do so.

Here's what's not OK: Outfits that cross a line regarding sexual identity, sexual orientation or race.

In other words, decency must prevail.

Here's why it had to be done and why players and owners are to be applauded.

First time I saw the Orioles put their rookies in waitress uniforms 20 years or so ago, I'm pretty sure there were zero photographs of the whole thing.

What changed? Social media. One player snaps a photo of three rookies dressed as Wonder Woman, and it might be seen by hundreds of thousands within minutes.

Harmless fun? Sure, you could still make that case.

But as photos of the rookies got passed around and as players attempted to outdo one another each year, the ritual took on a darker and more aggressive tone.

At times, lines were crossed. Players on both sides complained. To everything there is a season, and this one had come and gone.

Laughs are OK. Humiliation is not.

MLB vice president Paul Mifsud told the AP the new rules were partly "in light of social media, which in our view, sort of unfortunately publicized a lot of the dressing up of the players… [as] insensitive and potentially offensive to a number of groups."

"Times have changed," union general counsel Dave Prouty told the AP. "There is certain conduct that we have to be conscious of."

Locker-room hazing that morphs into bullying became a front-burner issue three years ago when three Miami Dolphins aggressively harassed a player to the point that he quit the team midseason to undergo counseling.

Baseball's hazing appears not to have gotten to that point, but the new policy is a proactive attempt to draw a line between innocent fun and doing something stupid.

So rookies may still be asked to make a Starbucks run in full uniform or to deliver snacks to the bullpen. They do not have to consume alcohol as some sort of initiation.

In the end, this simply is about respect, and who would argue with that?

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.