Jonathan Papelbon Makes the NFL Look Bad

But the MLB's strong stance on 'crotch grabbing' won't absolve it on domestic violence issues.

If there was one dominant observation on social media to news that Jonathan Papelbon received a seven game suspension for grabbing his crotch in response to a booing crowd, it was this:

After the former Red Sox closer blew the Phillies’ ninth inning lead to the Marlins, the crowd heckled him. Ever the fan favorite down in Philly, Papelbon responded by grabbing his crotch and tussling with the umpire who ejected him.

Papelbon argued he had just been adjusting his jock strap, but that rock-solid defense still earned him a seven-game suspension from the league, and an apology to fans from his team.

On Twitter, of course, people couldn’t help but see the words “suspension” and “sports” and think “Adrian Peterson.” The Minnesota Viking was deactivated last weekend after he was indicted on charges that he injured his child by disciplining him with a switch. The Vikings have since reinstated him while investigators “collect all the evidence.” Given the month the NFL is having on the domestic abuse front, critics were unimpressed with the Vikings’ willingness to keep him around for as long as they could.

But that reinstatement is offensive even without a juxtaposition to Papelbon’s punishment. The comparison is, of course, a bit “apples to oranges.” For one, seven games in the MLB season is very different from seven games in the NFL season. (But then, grabbing your junk is a very different crime from “whooping” your child with a switch.) Plus, the MLB is not a saintly sibling to the NFL on player discipline issues when it comes to domestic violence policy. In the wake of Ray Rice’s initial two-game suspension for knocking out his wife, the NFL has strengthened penalties for violations of its domestic violence policy. According to MLB commissioner Bud Selig, meanwhile, “We deal with situations as they occur.” Nor do they always deal with them well.

As San Francisco Chronicle writer John Shea argued this week, “A reactive, not proactive, approach kind of got baseball in trouble with that little steroid matter. Of course, baseball needs a policy, just as the NFL needed one.” The MLB might make the NFL look bad when it comes down strong on crotch-grabbers. But that won’t keep the MLB from looking just as bad the next time one of its players gets caught up in a domestic abuse incident and the league’s “case by case” policy spits out a minor penalty. The NFL definitely looks terrible this week. It just isn’t because Jonathan Papelbon likes to grab his crotch.