The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t know what they didn’t know when they cut major-league pitcher Trevor Bauer from their roster in January 2023. The Dodgers started the process of exiling Bauer 18 months earlier, three days after the Pasadena Police Department confirmed they were investigating a sexual assault accusation against him. The Dodgers relied on “[t]wo extensive reviews of all the available evidence in this case” to decide “after careful consideration … that he will no longer be part of our organization.”
The Buffalo Bills knew that there was a lot they didn’t know in August 2022 when a civil lawsuit accused punter Matt Araiza of rape. Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane acknowledged, “[W]e don’t know all of the facts,” “we don’t have the means to put all the facts together,” “[w]e don’t have access to everything,” and that the team was acting “with limited information.”
None of these lacunae deterred them from cutting Araiza within two days.
Both men refused to go along with the standard playbook of settling with their accusers. “Her legal team has approached me multiple times about coming to a financial settlement,” Bauer said of his accuser, Lindsey Hill. “But, as I have done from day one, I refuse to pay her a single cent.”
Likewise, Araiza declined a settlement offer for $50,000 from his accuser, saying “I know the teams know the true facts. … [W]e need the public to understand as well.”
Those decisions preserved their opportunities to vindicate themselves publicly. But they both first needed the legal process to provide the means, particularly video evidence.
‘It Was Never About the Money’
Bauer sued Hill for defamation in spring 2022, and she responded with a countersuit. That gave Bauer access to Hill’s phone, which contained a selfie video Hill took in bed next to Bauer the morning after their tryst. He also obtained her text messages where she talked about Bauer as “Next victim. Star pitcher for the dodgers” and her plan to be “an absolute WHORE to try to get in his on 51 million.”
Bauer and Hill settled their competing claims in late September. On Oct. 2 Bauer shared some of the exculpatory evidence in a social media video, including the fact that Hill withheld some of it from Bauer during an earlier stage of the legal process. He also explained the essential terms of his settlement.
“The lawsuit was never about the money for me. It was the only way for me to obtain critical information to clear my name,” he said.
“I was willing to agree [that both] parties would drop their respective lawsuits and neither of us would pay either side any money. I also retained my right to speak publicly about the case, something I have not been at liberty to do since June of 2021.”
The district attorney’s investigation into Araiza turned up video of his accuser consensually engaging in sex acts with Araiza’s co-defendants at the party where she said Araiza raped her. The time stamps from these videos are from after Araiza had left the party, which a witness corroborates.
Trevor Bauer and Matt Araiza understood that the standard hush-money playbook silences both parties but significantly benefits the accuser. These deals freeze the allegations in time and on Google search results, with the settlement cast in the public eye as an admission of wrongdoing, akin to taking the Fifth Amendment.
Institutional, Self-Inflicted Witch Hunts
The Bauer-Araiza approach is a promising development in the wider turn against malicious accusations and social-professional cancellations, whether of the #MeToo or woke transgression variety.
Even among those with access to media or public relations — high-profile athletes, executives, journalists, or artists — few people in these situations trusted in their ability to produce evidence and speak openly in their defense. Proof and speech are the sine qua non of vindication. But most individuals facing cancellation sacrifice that opportunity either by writing a check, as would have been the case with these two players, or by accepting a check as part of an executive severance package.
“I’m bound by a non-disparagement clause against an organization that did nothing but disparage me,” a canceled ex-CEO recently told me.
Trevor Bauer spent two years working to clear his name. As Hill knew, he had the means to pay “significantly more in legal fees than Lindsey Hill could ever pay me in her entire life.” She just miscalculated how he would use it in response to her accusations.
The cost-benefit analysis of this approach often strips away the options for most people in these positions.
A canceled collegiate coach hired a defamation lawyer who told him, “If you tell me to sue these people, I will, and you will win. Now I’m going to tell you why we’re not going to do that. It’s a bad look. They aren’t wealthy enough for you to get much money out of it, anyways. It’s going to take two years and cost tens of thousands to $100,000. That’s your best-case scenario. It will be emotional and exhausting, and you’re trying to get healthy. My recommendation is you just move on.”
Talk of moving on is more satisfying when it includes some form of restoration. Opening the door for someone to return to their work and their profession acknowledges the factual, procedural, and moral errors that led to them being canceled. Equally importantly, it acknowledges the immense loss of talent our institutions and society have inflicted on themselves throughout this iteration of witch hunts and trials.
Will the MLB and NFL Right Their Wrongs?
The burden of action is now on Major League Baseball and the National Football League. They took action against these players in a matter of days. After years (Bauer) and months (Araiza) of legal and judicial investigations, these players proved that the reasons for cutting them are provably false and incomplete. The accusations were factually and, at least in Bauer’s case, morally wrong. That, furthermore, implicates the law firms and arbitrators that investigate such claims on behalf of the employer in many cases like this, and whose reports provide the pretext for firing the accused.
By rejecting a financial settlement, pursuing their vindication, and preserving their right to speak, Trevor Bauer and Matt Araiza did more than just clear their names legally and publicly. They rewrote the playbook for people facing #MeToo or woke orthodoxy cancellations.