This picture only kind of looks like New York Mess…er…Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez is about to cave in some schmuck’s jaw.

He actually appears to be celebrating a save, but after the events of the last couple of weeks, we could all be forgiven about the confusion.

K-Rod was arrested late last Thursday for a physical altercation with his girlfriend’s father outside the family lounge at Citi Field. He’s been charged with third-degree assault which, luckily for him, is a misdemeanor in New York.

Misdemeanor or not, it’s difficult to see how rational, clear-thinking folks can condone the potentially unprovoked beating of a 53-year-old man inside the attacker’s own workplace.

However, that’s exactly what the Major League Baseball Players’ Association has done by filing a grievance to stop the Mets from placing K-Rod on the disqualified list and exercising their contractual right to convert the remainder of his deal to non-guaranteed money.

Rodriguez injured himself, most likely in the altercation, tearing a thumb ligament that will end his season, suspension or not. The MLBPA is likely to fudge the timing of the injury and claim that the Mets are simply trying to rid themselves of an expensive contract for a player who can no longer help them reach the playoffs this season.

(Although at this point, the bullpen could consist of Christ Almighty and the 12 apostles, and even they’d be unlikely to get the Mets into the postseason. Now, if only someone would tell the Mets that.)

Athletes already have very little fear of consequences for their actions. They have the financial wherewithal to buy settlements and the best-connected lawyers anywhere. The only thing they have to fear is suspensions that can cost them substantial chunks of their even more substantial salaries.

However, even those are becoming a nightmare for teams to implement. The Mets were browbeaten into only suspending Rodriguez for two games immediately following the fight. The players’ union hovered overhead and let the team know that a grievance would hit them fast and hard if they tried to hit K-Rod fast and hard.

Let that sink in. Two days off of work for beating the hell out of your children’s grandfather. If you or I did that, especially at our place of business, we’d be staring at being permanently out of that job.

Players’ unions provide a great deal of protection for athletes. They’ve boosted salaries to astronomical levels, forced owners to offer benefits that players in our grandparents’ age bracket would have killed for, and instituted free agency procedures that make franchises dance like puppets.

At the same time, unions continue to make it even easier for athletes to behave like boors, idiots, and yes, even criminals.

This is far from a new development. The MLBPA has been defending criminal behavior for at least a quarter of a century now. From Lamarr Hoyt trying to smuggle coke to Wil Cordero threatening to kill his wife to Denny Neagle just trying to get a happy, players are pretty much free to do whatever they want. They can be content in the knowledge that the union will have their back no matter what kinds of discipline the team may want to throw at them.

Nor is this unique to baseball. The NFLPA won an appeal to keep most of Michael Vick’s roster bonus in his pocket as he headed to Leavenworth, Kansas to start his prison sentence for running a dogfighting ring. A dogfighting ring, mind you, that was largely financed by the same contract that awarded him said bonus.

Am I advocating for unions to be disbanded? Ye gods, no. Owners having all the stroke again would be absolutely intolerable for players and fans alike.

But what would be nice to see is a little more accountability for athletes who go outside the rules of society. Players’ unions need to step aside once in a while and stop feeding the perception of athletes as spoiled, entitled thugs.

If a player gets accused of a felony (which, as stated above, would actually not include K-Rod), language needs to be inserted into collective bargaining agreements indicating to the players that they would be on their own. No protection from suspension or prosecution, save whatever they could spend for settlements and high-powered attorneys.

If you get off, congrats, but don’t be surprised if your contract is voided while you’re busy trying to duck the charges.

Leagues, unions, and even players themselves don’t enjoy the perception that their members are sometimes considered lawless heathens. Yet, the actions don’t match the handwringing.

Unions should always defend their players against abuses of power by team owners and league commissioners, but where does the line get drawn? At what point is the union defending the indefensible?

NBA commissioner David Stern dropped a 50-game hammer on Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton for bringing guns into the Washington Wizards’ locker room. The NBAPA said nothing about it, because the position was pretty much untenable.

ESPN’s Howard Bryant wrote a piece following the Vick sentencing essentially eviscerating then-head of the NFLPA Gene Upshaw for not going the extra mile in defending Vick. Upshaw’s words, saying that Vick’s actions “[could not] be condoned under any circumstances,” were interpreted as “an abandonment of Vick and a capitulation to [NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell.”

In that case, Upshaw was the smartest man in the room, remembering that the NFL’s image was not about to be helped by fighting tooth and nail to exonerate a man who had committed crimes absolutely abhorrent to middle America. Again, defending Vick was an untenable position, although that still didn’t stop them from fighting to let him keep his bonus.

MLB’s players’ union has been getting their way for so long that, for them, no position is untenable; even a player beating the holy hell out of a man twice his age inside his own home ballpark in front of dozens of witnesses.

Maybe it just depends on which old ass you decide to whoop. Two years ago, Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon tried to choke out general manager Ed Wade. Just this week, the MLBPA’s grievance on behalf of Chacon was denied.

Remember, this is a man trying to beat the holy hell out of his boss. Again, if you or I do it, we’re spending a few nights in jail, at the very least. These guys do it, they get the best defense teams money can buy.

Players’ unions are enabling the very behavior that fully convinces Joe and Jane Fan that if these men could not hit, catch, or shoot balls through a hoop, they’d probably be locked up somewhere. The message to the unions’ memberships is less “straighten up and act like a civilized human being” and more “don’t worry, we’ve got your back no matter what.”

There’s always a place for that protection. But if you’ve just beaten the hell out of someone, smuggled coke into the country, or massacred a whole slew of dogs, should you have any expectation of this sort of protection? For this writer’s money, no.

If unions have any worry about the image of their memberships, it’s time to stop coddling those who are wrecking that image. Maybe that will remind future stars that there ARE, in fact, limits to what they can get away with.

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