What Trevor Bauer’s Case Tells us About Sports Media

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Trevor Bauer is not playing for a team called the Tokyo Crickets. But, that’s the sound we heard this week from most of sports media after the former MLB pitcher published content that seems to vindicate him. Crickets, as in nothing.

Bauer was effectively shelved by Major League Baseball in 2021 following accusations from a woman that he had physically abused her in a pair of sexual encounters. Bauer was placed on administrative leave, and his absence from baseball was extended again, and again…and again…until he missed the last three months of the 2021 season and all of 2022.

On Monday, Bauer released a video (linked below) with text messages that show his accuser targeted him for a payoff. The text messages reveal that the woman went to his house to get at his millions. A video of the woman shows her the morning after an apparent sexual encounter: no bruises, no fractured skull, no injuries. Just a smirk as she looks into the camera on her phone.

Legal Limbo and Absence from MLB

Following the accusations against him, while under contract to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bauer continued to draw his salary while he was in legal limbo. No charges were filed against him in California where the incident allegedly took place. No arrest was made. MLB and the MLB Players Association did a soft shoe dance, carefully trying to distance Bauer while a black cloud of accusation hung over him.

Bauer maintained his innocence, but the sports media pounced on him. “Innocent until proven guilty” is not a convenient policy in the age of 15-minute news cycles, constant “breaking news” scrolls on the bottom of our screens, and “hot take” journalism. Sports media is about as bad as it gets, with little journalistic effort out into the “content” created.

Sports Media Attacked Bauer Despite Shaky Evidence

Two reporters, Brittany Ghiroli and Katie Strang of The Athletic “broke” the story that Lindsey Hill, the woman who accused Bauer of sexual assault and domestic violence, claimed she suffered a fractured skull and other injuries. That reporting was based on the complaint filed by Hill with authorities. Initial reporting by Ghiroli/Strang stated that Hill had suffered a skull fracture. Later, The Athletic added a disclaimer to the reporting by Ghiroli/Strang, distancing themselves from accusations that Bauer had injured Hill.

But that didn’t stop Strang from posting her personal opinions about the Bauer/Hill case on Twitter. In several posts that resulted in more than 1,000 comments, Strang expressed her unvarnished opinion that Bauer was a monster. In modern “outrage journalism,” all it takes is a social media account and sanctimonious indignation to grab headlines.

All it takes to understand Strang is a perusal of her Twitter account to find that she operates under the policy of “conviction by public opinion.” Buoyed by a legion of sycophantic followers, it’s easy for her to cast anger at someone accused of abhorrent behavior. Facts and due process be damned: the more sensational the story is, the more wicked the accused appears, all the better to draw clicks.

Sensible opinions are not popular, and often criticized

Most troubling is the fact that anyone who cautions against drawing conclusions, anyone who speaks of “due process,” and anyone who dares to point out any problems with the accuser, is soundly attacked. We’ve seen it too often since the #MeToo movement emerged: sensibility is not welcome. Outrage is the only crayon in the box. That’s sad, because such a philosophy actually hurts the #MeToo movement, which is a worthwhile endeavor to make people aware of violence against women.

But wicked attacks based on flawed evidence and poisoned by bias, like we saw from Ghiroli/Strang, only serves to alienate people who can bring value to discussions about violence, sexual abuse, and other issues. Where is the inclusiveness? Why can’t all questions be asked, and why can’t everyone, even men, be in volved in the solutions to such problems?

Problems was all Bauer had after he was accused and barbecued by the sports media machine. After a California judge refused to grant a restraining order sought by Hill, Bauer was still sidelined by MLB. When he was not charged of a crime, he was still barred from playing for the Dodgers. This was all under the guise of MLB performing its own investigation. The league eventually issued a 324-game suspension, which conveniently would cover the balance of the final two years of Bauer’s contract with the Dodgers. An arbitrator reduced the suspension to 194 games, which was still the longest under a joint policy adopted by the league and the MLBPA.

Bauer was cleared to play in 2023, but the Dodgers released him, and no other team offered him a contract, as far as we know. That’s when the former Cy Young Award winner hopped to Japan. He had a good season in the NPBL, but suffered an injury late in the year.

On Monday, only hours after his lawyers had reached an agreement with Ms. Hill to dismiss their lawsuits aimed at each other, Bauer was online feeling vindicated. Unmuzzled, he shared screenshots of Hill’s text messages. All of them were damning. It reveals a scheme by Hill to extort Bauer via a false sexual assault claim, which she shared with multiple people. The evidence shared by Bauer in the video jibes with claims he made all along, and it also is consistent with authorities not charging Bauer, and a judge not issuing a restraining order. In fact, Bauer and his lawyers have shared statements from the judge in which she states Hill was not credible.

The Athletic, which published many scathing stories about Bauer when he was accused, issued a short story on Monday explaining the resolution to the lawsuits. But the article makes no mention of the text or video that Bauer shared, which appears to confirm his status as a victim of false accusations. Clearly, The Athletic was most concerned with how many words and how much sensationalism it could drum up against Bauer when the story was red-hot. Now, with the former pitcher seemingly vindicated, little is said.

Video from Bauer sharing evidence of Hill’s false accusation

Bauer shared this video on his personal YouTube channel earlier this week.

Will media be more responsible following Bauer case?

The apparent false accusation that ruined Trevor Bauer’s MLB career and the furor from sports media over it, tells us a lot about our culture and “due process.” Basically it tells us that when it comes to popular opinion, there is no due process.

The media also knows most people don’t deal in nuance. Sensational, simple-to-understand stories are the best: this guy is bad; that guy is good. Isn’t this terrible, and how can it be spun to fit a narrative? That’s all media really cares about.

Bauer is far from perfect. He’s been a lightning rod for controversy during his career. He once threw a baseball over the outfield wall when Terry Francona came to the mound to remove him from a game. He suffered an injury from working with his drone. He got into a fight with MLB over logos and spider tack, and other issues. He has an endless supply of opinions. If you watch his YouTube channels, you’ll probably find him to be a self-absorbed frat boy type, a man0child who hasn’t grown up and maybe never will. He also clearly has made mistakes in choosing the people he’s allowed into his life.

But, failure in maturity is not a crime. And no one, not even someone who you may find unappealing like Bauer, deserves to be the target of false accusations. In his case, following his signing of the richest annual value contract in MLB, he was targeted by a woman who unscrupulously and maliciously set about to dismantle him financially. Supported by media who values sensationalism over prudence, Bauer was nearly destroyed. It’s a classic case of a person never being able to shake themselves away from an accusation so terrible that it’s bound to be part of their story forever, when it’s shown to be untrue.

We should be better than this. We shouldn’t act like we know something when we can’t possibly know. We shouldn’t burn someone’s life to the ground and gleefully reach for more matches when the evidence is at the very least unclear, and at the very worst, fabricated. We should all be better than this.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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