Thursday, February 23, 2012

Working the Refs

Today a panel of arbitrators ruled 2 to 1 in favor of Ryan Braun in overturning his suspension by the MLB for testing positive in the post-season for performance enhancing drugs.  The MLB has already issued a statement disagreeing with the decision.

I don't know the facts of the case, I wasn't privy to the evidence and arguments presented to arbitrators, and frankly I don't care enough to go hunting them down.  What I think this illustrates is a broader trend in our society to bemoan the outcome of any disciplinary system when that system acquits.

The Rodney King trial saw riots, the OJ Simpson trial fostered outrage, and the Casey Anthony verdict garnered death threats.  Republicans have spent years fighting the idea that terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian courts, and when the underwear bomber received life in prison Democrats responded to Republican criticism by saying "see?  The system CAN work."

What's disturbing about that last remark, that retort, is the idea implicit in it that had the defendant been acquitted, that the judicial system had somehow failed.  That we had prejudged the defendant and were grading our actual judicial system on its ability to validate our preconceived notions.

I spent a summer working in employment law on the employer side, where my job was to assist in the defense of an employer against charges of discrimination by employees.  Cases initially went before an arbitrator rather than to a federal court.  Now, I have a lot of good things to say about arbitration, but one area in which it struggles is the independence afforded our judiciary.  In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases, arbitrators are selected from a list of arbitrators agreed upon in collective bargaining between the union and the employer, and this list is subject to constant update.  So you get situations where an arbitrator rules against the union, or the employer, and that side then challenges their inclusion for future cases.  I don't know how arbitrators for baseball are selected, but don't think MLB officials won't remember the names of these arbitrators going forward.

Which, sometimes arbitrators and judges do get it wrong.  They are human.  But there's also a lot of sour grapes in our society whenever a court doesn't rule our way.  Whether it be cries of judicial activism or outright vandalism, we attack the system and its officers for any outcome we don't support.  And the hope is that by continuing to boo the refs, it'll shade their calls down the line.  At some point though we need to step back from our personal investment in any given issue and realize that any system of dispute resolution that doesn't occasionally invalidate our preconceived notions is no system at all.  It's just a rubber stamp.  That may be fine and well so long as you're the one doing the stamping, but some day it'll be you getting stamped.

No comments:

Post a Comment