So far the Charlotte Hornets have handled the Jeff Taylor domestic assault situation well. They investigated then decided to keep Taylor out of camp and away from the team while the case starts to work its way through the legal process. That has been all Hornets, not the NBA league office.
At the same time, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA would review its domestic violence policy, particularly in wake of the NFL’s fumbling of the Ray Rice situation.
That process may not be as smooth. At least don’t expect anything to happen quickly.
Sports Illustrated’s sports law expert Michael McCann has a great breakdown of why this will not be so simple.
The NBA has not disciplined Taylor, who is unlikely to receive any punishment from the league anytime soon for at least two reasons. First, he’s been charged, not convicted. Second, Taylor’s charges are classified as misdemeanors, not felonies. Article VI of the league’s collective bargaining agreement is the key section for disciplining NBA players who commit domestic violence. It authorizes NBA suspensions only for players who are convicted or who plead guilty to a violent felony. This is a remarkably tolerant standard for players who commit domestic violence, one of the most difficult crimes to prosecute. Victims of domestic violence often refuse to testify against their significant others, thus denying prosecutors of their most crucial witness.
The policy of the NBA, like most professional leagues, has been to let the legal system run its course before acting, but in today’s world that kind of patience is not always a good course of action (see the Rice situation with the NFL). Especially with domestic violence cases, where the charges are often reduced.
There are other parts of the league constitution Silver could use to punish a player who violates laws or does something that is “detrimental to the NBA.”
But the other part of that is the NBA needs to negotiate any tougher rules with the players union, and that may not be so simple. Michelle Roberts, the new executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, was very forthright speaking to McCann.
Roberts—a former public defender—will likely also oppose any changes to the NBA’s domestic violence policy that could lead to punishments in the absence of convictions or guilty pleas. The reasoning is simple: sometimes people are wrongly accused. In an interview with SI.com, Roberts made clear the limits of any changes until the next round of collective bargaining. “We have already addressed these issues in the CBA,” Roberts told SI.com. “There are existing policies in place that were negotiated. That said, we would be open to discussions about increased training and education and, most importantly, developing strategies to prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place.” Roberts expressed opposition to changing the penalty scheme, however, until there is a new round of collective bargaining.
The next round of collective bargaining will not come until 2017 (expect the players to opt out and renegotiate that summer).
Roberts isn’t going to move before then because everything is not on the table in negotiations yet — she would be giving the NBA something for nothing. The players already feel they did that last time around in the lockout year, they are not going down that road again.
Meaning it’s going to be a couple years before there is any real change in the NBA’s policy.