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Dear Mike Fleiss and Bill Shaikin: women aren’t props

The Los Angeles Times is once again demonstrating that toxic masculinity is alive and well in baseball media

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In Monday’s Los Angeles Times, reporter Bill Shaikin published a set of interviews with purported creatives regarding how fan-less Major League Baseball might work. One of those “creatives” - using the term loosely for reasons which will become more clear momentarily - was The Bachelor creator and alleged domestic abuser Mike Fleiss. And what, pray tell, were Fleiss’ ideas for the 2020 MLB season which so necessitated their inclusion in the largest newspaper in the United States west of the Mississippi River?

Wait, what? Surely, this can’t be serious. Let’s look at what Fleiss said in context.

Fleiss is aware that some players, including the DodgersClayton Kershaw and AngelsMike Trout, have objected to the possibility of a bubble environment, in which they would be isolated from their families. For argument’s sake, let’s leave aside the issue of children and focus on players not seeing their wives or girlfriends, perhaps for months.

“The biggest problem with why sports leagues will never do it is that I don’t think the players will be able to maintain quarantine. These guys are never going to be able to go cold turkey. You’ve got to be able to embrace that truth and make that part of the game.”

Remember, Fleiss is the guy who dreamed up “The Bachelor.”

“What you do is, each game, you load up the stadium with their wives, at a distance from them and at a distance from each other, so there is no quarantine violation. The winning team gets to have their wives tested, and then essentially a conjugal visit.

“You can [film] all the girls. They’re beautiful. They’re in the stands, separated in their own sections or whatever. Those guys are now playing for more than the pride of winning a baseball game. If you go on an eight-game losing streak, that’s not good.”

Excuse me?

Because let’s be clear about what Fleiss is suggesting here: that players’ wives and girlfriends be reduced to props based solely on subjective attractiveness and perceived sexual desirability to cisgender heterosexual men.

  • Fleiss wants to parade women - whom he disparagingly calls “girls” - in front of a camera for ratings, whether they agree to it or not.
  • Fleiss wants to do this not because he thinks that families belong together, but instead because he doesn’t want the male players to go without sex, thereby reducing women to nothing more than sexual servicing devices for men.
  • Worst of all, Fleiss is essentially demanding that women turn over their own sexual agency not only to their partner (which would be bad enough), but also to a television network and sports league.

To say that this collection of “ideas” is odious and offensive is an understatement - and this hasn’t even touched on the idea of a “conjugal visit” being borrowed from prison jargon, implying that the players and their partners are literally incarcerated for the entertainment of fans, or the assumption that players and their partners are heterosexual and cisgender, or that the players’ partners must satisfy some amorphous beauty standard.

We haven’t discussed the fact that players’ partners are all accomplished women with careers and lives of their own, from Eireann Dolan to Jenny Dell to Kate Upton to Misty May-Treanor to Amanda Blumenherst to Jaime Edmondson Longoria to Amber Sabathia to Audie Fugett, among many, many, many others. Maybe, just maybe, these women are human beings who would object to putting their lives and careers on hold to sit in a chair and have sex on demand for television ratings?

But Fleiss didn’t stop there.

The offering of the rose is a signature element of “The Bachelor.” How about incorporating it into baseball — say, a manager gets a wild card to use any one batter at any one point in the game?

For instance, if the Angels had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh inning, with the score tied and Jason Castro due up, manager Joe Maddon could play his wild card by handing a rose to Trout so he would bat instead.

So, Fleiss, how about a rose for baseball?

“Reinstate Pete Rose. The final rose, man. There it is.”

That would be alleged statutory rapist Pete Rose, who according to multiple witnesses repeatedly sexually assaulted girls as young as twelve during his playing days.

Now, Fleiss might argue that this was nothing more than tongue-in-cheek satire. Of course, Shaikin’s piece certainly didn’t say that - if anything, it was phrased as earnest lessons MLB can learn. Yikes. But let’s put that aside for the moment. Even if it was satire, the Times evidently thought that satire about statutory rape and turning women into de facto sex slaves was amusing. Yikes again?

So either Fleiss is the kind of person who believes that women amount to nothing more than sexual objects for use by men, or is the kind of person who believes that joking about women being sexual objects for men is funny. Either way, those ideas are best left in the dustbin of history where they belong, along with Fleiss’ reputation. This is who Mike Fleiss is, in his wife’s words:

“While we were at our house in Kauai, Mike demanded that I get an abortion,” Laura Fleiss says in the document. “Our son Ben was in the house, seated in another room nearby. Mike told me, ‘If you have an abortion, then we can just go back to the way we were.’”

In her statement, Laura Fleiss alleges that on July 6 Fleiss “grabbed (her) body” and “forcibly pinned (her) up against the wall.,” before yelling at her and threatening to “punch her in the face.” Later on, Fleiss allegedly “forcefully shoved” Laura Fleiss off the side of his truck while she pleaded with him to return her cellphone, which he had taken.

Laura Fleiss actually later obtained a restraining order against Mike. That a person allegedly uses force to coerce another to make choices about her own body would demand the same of other women isn’t at all surprising, of course.

But Laura wasn’t alone. Former Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe said that Fleiss barred her from other career opportunities, including Dancing with the Stars, noting that “I will say this with a mic in my hand and a smile on face, that Mike Fleiss is a piece of s—. He is the creator of The Bachelor, and he hates women.”

Then there’s reporter Amy Kaufman, who noted that “a casting associate [on the Bachelor set] spotted Fleiss, who was married to his first wife at the time, flirting with producer Lisa Levenson as she sat between his legs[,]” something Fleiss didn’t refute. Is it any surprise, then, that Fleiss would consider himself entitled to control what players’ partners can and can’t do? That Fleiss would consider players entitled to sex on demand? His own actions seem to indicate that he holds that opinion himself.

This is the type of person that the Los Angeles Times thinks is worthy of having his ideas heard? All of this was public knowledge - accessible with a simple Google search - and yet the Times and Shaikin decided to solicit and print Fleiss’ so-called thoughts anyway. It’s rather clear what Matt Fleiss thinks of women. The only logical purpose for having Fleiss pitch his ideas, then, is if you’re looking for something that’s going to objectify women. Shaikin and the Times, of course, got what they wanted.

Baseball has a domestic violence problem. We know that. Baseball media has a domestic violence problem. We also know that. Baseball front offices have a domestic violence problem. We know that too. I’ve written about it at length. Even Rob Manfred thinks baseball has a culture problem.

Predators like Jonah Keri go unreported, and player-predators go unchecked, because of people like Bill Shaikin enlisting opinions like that of Mike Fleiss. If you genuinely believe that writing for a public audience what a great idea it is to degrade and destroy women’s sexual and bodily agency for ratings, you’re not going to see anything wrong with domestic abuse. Of course, Shaikin only thinks about domestic abuse in this kind of context:

Removing women’s agency is how abuse and violence toward women happens. Readers of this article know exactly what they’re getting from an alleged abuser like Fleiss, approvingly discussing his disgusting plans for the objectification and sexualization of women. And abusers know what they’re getting too: an ally. And that’s the most important issue.

So this is the bottom line. Do you want to know why players still abuse their partners? Why Roger Clemens is still being considered for the Hall of Fame despite being an alleged sexual predator? Why Brandon Taubman thrived with the Astros for years? Why we don’t have openly LGBTQ+ players in Major League Baseball? Why we don’t have cis female players? Why we don’t have trans* women or non-binary players?

Because satire or not, articles like those linked above give the toxic masculinity in Major League Baseball all the cover it will ever need. Fleiss is the personification of toxic masculinity in all of its odious glory. Baseball doesn’t need to parade players’ wives and girlfriends in front of cameras for drooling men. It certainly doesn’t need to control their sex lives. What baseball does need is to run the Times, Bill Shaikin, and Mike Fleiss out of town, for good.

Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and Legal Director at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.