His life has been chaotic since he stepped into the public’s spotlight. Heck, his life was likely in chaos long before then. But my experience with Milton Bradley — the ballplayer, not the game-maker — only goes back to when Bradley joined the Cleveland Indians and I covered the team in the summer of 2001.
Bradley, called “Game Boy” for obvious reasons, arrived in Cleveland with a reputation, though a man’s reputation can often be undeserved. His was not. Everybody in baseball raved about his raw talent; everybody bemoaned the fragility of his mental makeup. Bradley, 35, was one loose bolt away from an emotional breakdown, people said.
Each day was a battle to stay strong, a battle he was losing.
It appears now that Bradley, a man who made $50 million as a ballplayer for eight Major League teams, has lost. He has squandered all of what he should have been, all that he was supposed to be. On Tuesday, a California judge sentenced Bradley to almost three years in prison. Had he gotten a day less, his sentence would have been an injustice of the worst sort.
Make no mistake, I hesitate to recommend putting another Black man behind bars, because U.S. prisons have no shortage of Black inmates. But I also find myself growing angrier and angrier when I see light sentences handed to men who use women as punching bags.
That’s Bradley’s crime: beating a woman. It didn’t matter to me who the woman was that the muscular, 215-pound Bradley beat. In America, a man can’t take his fists to any woman — wife, girlfriend, sister or stranger. Along with rapists and pedophiles, women-beaters rank high on the list of wrongdoers who deserve long prison sentences.
Bradley’s lawyers asked for leniency. They asked the court to understand their client’s volcanic, antisocial past; they brought up all the efforts to rehab a man whose behavior couldn’t adjust to today’s norms.
No reports on what Bradley himself did. But he should have stood in front of the judge and begged for forgiveness. He should have said he understood what he had done was wrong.
Would he have been believable? No.
We live in a society now that doesn’t forgive brutality against our women. Nor should we have ever forgiven it, even from athletes who are rich, as Bradley is, or troubled, as Bradley surely is. We can only try so long to fix a broken man.
I know prison isn’t a place to fix a broken man either. The history of crime in this country is thick with stories about men whose time behind bars made them even meaner than they had been before they did a day in prison. Life there is hard, but no one who commits the crime that Bradley, free on appeal, committed should expect to do easy time.
In a world where we should show compassion, I can’t see how we could show an ounce of it to Bradley. We had to reserve our compassion for his estranged wife — the person he assaulted.
For Milton Bradley, we stood in the back of the California courtroom and yelled in unison: Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect another Major League paycheck.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)