Back in December 2020, we learned that Omar Vizquel’s dismissal from the White Sox in September 2019 wasn’t the baseball-only decision it seemed. Tucked into an investigation by The Athletic into domestic abuse charges made against Vizquel by his wife was a report of an incident between Vizquel and a Birmingham Barons clubhouse worker.
The story offered no details, except to note that the employee was male, the White Sox suspended Vizquel with pay while investigating the matter, then fired him after the season. The Athletic reached out to all parties involved and received varying forms of no comment, but the ones issued by the clubhouse worker and Vizquel suggested plenty going unsaid:
When reached by The Athletic, the clubhouse worker, who is no longer with the team, said: “I have to stay silent about this.”
Vizquel, when asked about the situation, said: “I can’t really say anything about that because it really — nothing happened.”
The clubhouse worker is no longer staying silent.
In a lawsuit first reported by Jason Morrin of the sports law blog Conduct Detrimental, the employee — a former batboy of the Barons — is suing Vizquel, the Birmingham Barons and the Chicago White Sox for sexual harassment. The suit follows a charge of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June.
Content warning: The charges in the complaint are graphic and disturbing.
Regarding the EEOC’s involvement, the former batboy has autism, and the complaint says it makes him uniquely vulnerable to tolerating sexual abuse. The batboy alleges that Vizquel told him he was sexually interested in men, and the batboy made it clear that the feelings weren’t mutual. The complaint says that Vizquel repeatedly exposed his genitals to the batboy during the course of the batboy’s job duties, such as when he restocked the mini-fridge in the manager’s office.
In the most detailed allegation, the lawsuit says that after a game at Regions Field on Aug. 22, 2019, Vizquel told the batboy to follow him into the shower room, where he ordered the batboy to wash his back “for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.” Fearing the risk of his employment status, the batboy complied. After leaving the shower room, he says multiple Barons employees laughed at him, including two coaches (hitting coach Charles Poe, assistant coach Wes Helms), a player (Bernardo Flores Jr.), the director of stadium operations (Mike Gravel) and the clubhouse manager (Adam Gutierrez), who was his direct supervisor.
The batboy says he didn’t return to work due to humiliation, and he was “constructively discharged” from his position. The complaint lodges that his treatment and dismissal by the Barons and their employees are violations of his federally protected rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Athletic inquired with the White Sox and Barons, who sent statements in response:
The White Sox said in a statement: “After first learning of an alleged incident in late August 2019, the Chicago White Sox conducted an internal investigation that resulted in the termination of the organization’s relationship with Omar Vizquel. Because this is active litigation, at this time the White Sox will not comment further regarding the allegations included in this lawsuit.”
The Barons released the following statement via their attorney, Bryance Metheny: “When the Barons learned an alleged improper incident occurred involving Mr. Vizquel, it worked in conjunction with the Chicago White Sox to conduct an investigation. After that investigation, Mr. Vizquel was terminated. The Barons will have no further comment on active litigation.”
Five of the six individuals mentioned in the suit by name — Vizquel, Gutierrez, Gravel, Poe and Flores — are no longer employed by the Barons or White Sox. The exception is Helms, who is currently the manager of the Charlotte Knights.
Depending on how much time elapsed while the alleged incident on Aug. 22 made its way up the White Sox’s chain of command — the Barons hit the road afterward before returning home for the final series, which ended on Sept. 2 — a mid-September firing might actually represent a fairly quick turnaround time for that part of the process. What happened in the weeks and months beforehand is the problem, and now that we know the allegations underneath the decision to fire him, perhaps Chris Getz regrets his overly generous framing of the decision to move on:
“Listen, Omar, ultra-talented player, very good instructor, created a good environment for our players,” Getz continued. “We just felt with where things are at, our player development system, that it was time to go separate ways. But not only for himself, but for the organization as well and we wish Omar well. He was a positive influence while he was here.”
(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)
That’s sounds horrible, especially considering all the similar issues another team in town are dealing with.
I question whether Wes Helms should be piloting the Knights right now, leaning towards not.
We’re pretty far along, and maybe the organization knows enough (or thinks it does) to be convinced he wasn’t involved/aware. Because otherwise , let him cash a paycheck but not show up until a decision gets made one way or the other.
This crap can’t fly. If all they’re willing to say about their employee is ‘no comment’ he needs to be placed on leave, minimum.
After the alleged incident, the organization saw fit to give Helms pretty much the biggest promotion they could, short of bringing him to the South Side. How does that happen unless the organization (a) fully investigated the incident and (b) was convinced Helms had absolutely no involvement before during or after?
That’s the only way, or the Sox should be looking beyond just this incident itself into how it is the organization failed even after learning what’s alleged to have happened. That’s really unacceptable.
What the hell happened to teams doing the right thing when it comes to sexual harassment and assaults? The White Sox, Blackhawks, Houston Texans, and any other multitude of teams either do nothing or actively try to hide what they know about these situations. I don’t expect owners to be Angels, but this should be zero tolerance.
You have to remember that the #metoo movement and its various offshoots are still a pretty new thing. But the abuse and such has been going on for decades if not longer across all sports and businesses in the cooperate world. We’re also seeing this playing out in the video game world with Blizzard right now. Im sure if you dug hard enough you can find something in just about every organization that’s been around for 10 years or more. Its a pretty shitty thing to say but that type of behavior was accepted to just blind eyed like we saw with Penn State till recently.
This is not sexual assault so not a direct comparison, but I recently heard Chipper Jones on a podcast talk about how Greg Maddux pissed on him in the shower and would often wipe his ass with teammates’ jerseys and put them back in their lockers. I couldn’t believe he was telling these stories in today’s environment, but then I checked and he’s been telling these stories since at least 2016. It’s just been accepted as haha Greg was gross and an asshole, but what a pitcher. You have an All-Star gold glove legend in a minor league setting how many people who are just trying to keep minor league coaching jobs are going to challenge someone like Omar? Very few people are ever going to involve themselves in a situation where there is the risk of a potential cost to themselves.
I think one of the major problems is most locker room behavior is learned in middle and high school where most people are idiots. If nothing is done to eliminate the bad habits at that stage, most people will just “not know better”. Does that excuse this behavior? Hell no, these are grown men who should know better but there is certainly a culture that needs to be corrected and hopefully the more coverage these kinds of stories get, the more involved people will get in the lower levels to eliminate this kind of behavior.
What a disgrace. Disgusting. What the hell is wrong with some people? How is Wes Helm still in this organization? He might not have been a participant but knowing the facts and laughing about it? If true, that’s is awful but not as awful as what Vizquel allegedly did. I guess we will know more about this in due time.
We don’t have all the details of the investigation, but if Helms not only turned a blind eye but thought Vizquel’s exploitation of the autistic batboy was amusing, he should be let go. We don’t need him, and he needs to get a wake-up call as to what real leadership entails. I don’t care how good of a manager he is. If his response was something other than what the batboy reported, then of course I am out of bounds. Organizations should never, ever fail to be as strict on this kind of criminal behavior as they can. And by the way, perhaps it may be time to part ways with Daryl Boston as well.
It seems like a really odd choice placing an autistic boy in an environment with pc-challenged (at best) man-children, like a minor-league clubhouse – or a construction site, or a military barracks, or a WWE smack down. Where’s the oversight, until the lawsuits?
Odd choice? Odd choice is allowing a 13 yr old kid into a clubhouse full of grown men. Placing a 25 yr man with a disability in a job that doesn’t required specific skills which cannot be obtained with the aforementioned disability should never be an odd choice.
What does his age matter if he is autistic and “uniquely vulnerable to tolerating sexual abuse”?
He’s a target for people like Vizquel, and don’t think he’s the only one. It’s so terrible to say “there are a lot of cretins in that place” and “we need to shelter him more than most” what were you thinking?
Nobody (with a disability or not) should be tolerating any degree of sexual harassments. If when hiring someone we need to think in that person’s tolerance to sexual harassments, then there is a problem here, and it has nothing to do with the person’s unique disability and his potential hiring.
No, we do need to think about a person’s unique disability and their potential hiring. Sometimes it’s physical and sometimes it’s cognitive. We can all debate whether it’s discrimination or common sense. Sometimes it’s both.
This person is uniquely vulnerable to harrassment because they’re small.
This person is uniquely vulnerable to harrassment because they’re a woman.
This person is uniquely vulnerable to harrassment because they’re gay.
Do you start to see the problem with this type of argument?
The whole concept that some people aren’t vulnerable. 11 high functioning, well-connected adults have come out as being sexually harassed by Andrew Cuomo. Or look at the number of more than physically capable adult men and women in the military who was sexually assaulted.
No one is invulnerable.
This is the EEOC’s argument, Greg, not mine. Read the full post from Jim regarding this case.
You’re arguing that his unique vulnerability (aka his disability) makes him unemployable in this job. That’s not what the EEOC said and is something I strongly disagree with.
I’m absolutely NOT saying it makes him unemployable in this job. He got the job. How did that work out? I’m saying pull back a moment, analyze the situation, and probably say let’s look elsewhere.
I’m honestly confused by what your argument actually is in all of this. What I’m reading is he applied for and got a job in a minor league clubhouse. So he was specifically interested in this job. Unfortunately a predator happened to be the manager in that locker room and took advantage of the situation. He wasn’t “placed” in that position. The Barons/White Sox didn’t go looking for disabled people to work in the clubhouse. It was active engagement on the defendant’s part. So your argument reads that the Barons/White Sox should have taken his disability in to consideration and not hired him because his disability was not compatible with having a sexual predator as a manager. Meanwhile, everyone else here seems to be saying there’s no reason he couldn’t work in the clubhouse and the sexual predator manager is the issue here. The White Sox even apparently moved fairly quickly to remove the sexual predator from his position. But none of this situation is evidence that autistic/disabled people should be excluded from working in clubhouses which again, appears to be your argument.
That’s quite a take, Tommy.
I’m not sure if you have an autistic child, but there are better environments for them to learn job skills and fruition, and there are others that scream stay away!
Yes, the organization’s mistake wasn’t employing a sexual predator. It was employing a man who was too easy to sexually assault. Obviously. Very solid take. Airtight.
I don’t know why you can’t see the troublesome decisions on both sides. I don’t think the Sox thought they were employing a sexual predator, as you confirmed, but all sports teams in this day should know how they are more likely for these transgressions. And they should/should’ve done more to prevent this. I doubt they have an HR in Birmingham just down the hallway.
Would you let your autistic child work in this environment? It’s ideal?
If the complaint cited run-of-the-mill insensitivity (language, “paying your dues” that comes too close to bullying), then maybe you could say that it wasn’t a good idea to put him in a testosterone-charged environment.
There are no reports that he couldn’t handle a standard clubhouse atmosphere. The complaint is about alleged sexual abuse, which shouldn’t be expected in any environment, even adjusting for standard clubhouse decorum. That’s why shifting/sharing blame comes off as gross.
No, Jim, you’re wrong. The autism report assumes that he couldn’t handle a standard clubhouse atmosphere.
Or the organizational mistake was allowing a culture that was toxic enough that numerous individuals thought the behavior was acceptable AND then made another mistake of allowing someone so vulnerable into that situation.
Yes! It’s hard for some people to grasp. Everybody bad (except the victim).
Hmm, this is perilously close to victim blaming. Sounds like there would have been no problem with this person working in this environment, except that Vizquel is a sexual predator.
It’s the opposite of victim blaming – I’m blaming the organization.
Blaming the organization of what though? It sounds like it’s regarding a hiring decision, not the clubhouse behavior. So let’s fill in the blank — “this could have been avoided if they hadn’t hired ___” Do you choose ‘batboy’ or ‘Vizquel’?
The EEOC made a point of noting the batboy is “extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse.” Now if you’re the batboy’s guardian or the White Sox, you should know what happens in these clubhouses (see Greg Maddux) and say maybe this job is a bad fit for someone challenged, autistic, etc. Maybe an ad agency would be better. You can live in fantasy land and say everything will be fine it’s 2020, but obviously that wasn’t the case.
Notice I’m not blaming the victim, but the organization.
And the answer is “this could have been avoided if they had more proactively punished the type of behavior that has existed in clubhouses for decades.”
Show me an industry that isn’t rampant with sexual abuse.
You see no problems with an environment that had a clubhouse of grown men laughing about sexual assault happening in front of their eyes? Vizquel is a predator, but as long as the environment allows this behavior, it’ll only be a matter of time before another predator arrives.
Perhaps bad phrasing on my part. Of course the story indicates huge issues that should be dealt with. But I don’t have a problem (and think, in fact, it speaks well of the franchise) that they were willing to employ a disabled worker in this job. They obviously failed him horribly and it makes me sick, but the fact remains that’s a reflection on Vizquel/the Barons/the White Sox, and not on the clubhouse worker or their willingness to hire him (which is what the original comment seemed to imply).
I don’t think we’re disagreeing much here. I’m more likely to recognize the bad and say “you didn’t see this coming”?
Again – batboy victim, organization guilty and poor judgement all around.
I’m sure that all manner of [stuff] goes on in pro sports locker rooms that is absolutely unacceptable. I’d like to be hopeful that we’re seeing the worst of it, but I fear most terrible behavior is still tolerated and that a sorely needed reckoning is still a ways down the road.
I am sure there is (and will be) some locker room behavior that isn’t pretty or of good taste. But this is vastly different. This is sexual harassment. This is not a couple of grown men joking about the big knockers of XYZ female fan sitting in the front row. This is against the law. It is a form of discrimination and a violation of human rights. This is just awful. And doing it to a person with a disability? Appalling.
This is one of the weirder things I have ever read. I’d also expect more victims of Vizquel to come forward.
That should happen. It would be good.
Unfortunately this behavior was once tolerated in most work places. I’ve been groped, “talked dirty to,” and threatened. It was a very intimidating environment for a young female but I still just had to deal with it because, well, boys will be boys. Most workplaces are much inviting to work in now and I’m very thankful for that. It’s time for the frat boy bro atmosphere of a locker room to get on board and I hope this guy gets some justice out of it.
Speaking from experience, feeling intimidated and powerless is a horrible place to be.