An article about domestic abuse by former Mariner Milton Bradley by Sports Illustrated details the dark side and deadly risks of giving athletes a second chance.
Upon reading the horrifying Sports Illustrated account of Milton Bradley’s long history of domestic-abuse charges, numerous thoughts ran through my head.
One was profound sadness that this cycle of violence was allowed, for a litany of complicated reasons, to play out so long — virtually until the death of Bradley’s wife, Monique, in 2013 at age 33. Official cause of death was cryptogenic cirrhosis of the liver, hemorrhagic shock and cardiorespiratory arrest.
I pondered also how Bradley was able to meander from team to team — eight in 12 years, including the Mariners in 2010 and 2011 — despite the obvious demons he carried with, and within, him.
Each ballclub was convinced it would be the one to get through to him, or at least coax enough good play to warrant the inevitable hassles. It’s a pattern we see to this day with players like Greg Hardy, and one that sports teams need to take a good, hard look at. While I believe in redemption and second chances, some athletes simply are too toxic, and their deeds too heinous, to mess with, no matter how much good play you think they might give you.
Finally, I felt regret for whatever minuscule role I might have played as a media enabler. It’s not that I swept Bradley’s long history of legal scraps and on- and off-field battles under the rug. I dutifully reported them. But I also had at least one “Bradley’s not as bad as portrayed” story, quoting former teammates, managers and executives about Bradley’s sensitive side.
It was written with a desire for balance and fairness, but in retrospect it’s the kind of thing that lets people like Bradley skate through. It also shows how difficult it can be to ascertain, from the outside looking in, just how volatile and dangerous a person really is.
Because Bradley DID have a sensitive side. He seemed, in those moments when he was approachable and cooperative, and (we were told) in private interactions with teammates, to genuinely want to be a good person.
L. Jon Wertheim is the Sports Illustrated executive editor who, along with reporter Michael McKnight, pieced together Bradley’s damning legal paper trail. In an interview Friday, Wertheim noted how the talking points, both in the media and from team officials, were the same at every stop.
“We can rationalize an awful lot of bad behavior if you want the player badly enough,’’ Wertheim said. “You could cut and paste the quotes — ‘troubled but talented,’ ‘volatile but passionate.’ In fairness to the teams, his trial wasn’t until after he was done playing. I’d hope in 2015 we have more awareness.’’
The perfect example of the dueling sides of Bradley came in May of 2010 when he was put on the restricted list by the Mariners. He had bolted the team in midgame, seemingly upset at being pulled out of a game by manager Don Wakamatsu, and then told management, “I need your help” to deal with his personal issues.
The next day, even as the Mariners were arranging counseling, Bradley fulfilled a speaking engagement at a local elementary school. With teammates like Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro watching, he gave an emotional, impassioned talk, telling the kids, “You’ve got the whole world waiting for you. I see so much potential in all of you. Someone in here might change the world.”
In moments like that, you were convinced there was a decent human being lurking within Bradley. And there might be. But for whatever reason, no matter how much counseling and anger management he goes through, Bradley has been incapable of keeping his darker side in check.
Tellingly, when Monique Bradley was asked, in one of the documents uncovered by Sports Illustrated, why she kept going back to Milton and even vacationed with him in 2012 despite all the ugly incidents, she replied, “When we got along, it was the best … I just always wanted to believe there was a better person.”
The forces that keep battered women from leaving their abusers are a much-studied phenomenon and worthy of an entire article. But Bradley did not justify anyone’s faith in his reclamation.
And now he’s facing a 32-month prison sentence (now under appeal) after being convicted by a jury on nine counts, including inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, assault with a deadly weapon (a baseball bat), criminal threats and brandishing a deadly weapon.
The details in the SI article, chronologically arranged so as to deliver an emotional wallop, are horrifying in their graphic detail. Let’s hope they are also a cautionary tale that make all of us think twice the next time a Milton Bradley is available for hire.