July 27, 2016

Domestic violence and the forgiveness of athletes

by Daniel Conmy

This is a topic that does not get talked about often enough in sports circles. There's probably a rationalization by fans to not talk about domestic violence, but it needs to be in the forefront of conversation. Why? Because we are much more than just fans of a game that has a ball thrown around or hit out of a park. We, as consumer of sport, are much more than our fandom and the players are much more than entertainers.

I cannot stress enough that I have never been in a situation where domestic violence has directly affected me. These opinions are my own and they do not represent any one else's view. I do not have all the information on all the incidents I have or will preface, but what I will look into is the reaction from fans and teams. With that said, let's talk about the issues with athletes and domestic violence.

Aroldis Chapman, was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight shots in her general vicinity. Later, no criminal charges were filed. Chapman was suspended by Major League Baseball for 30 games for this incident. From the baseball side of things, Chapman's value was lowered given the suspension, but this is much more than a case of value being lower.

Chapman threw a scoreless, hitless inning for the Chicago Cubs in his first appearance for his new team. Everyone was standing and cheering as they saw the radar light up with numbers above 100. It was a spectacle for baseball fans. No one else consistently throws over 100 mph. Kids were locked in, the crowd reacted with a collective gasp when he hit over 100 on the radar gun. They cheered and the Cubs won the game after the 1-2-3 inning. The fans, who haven't seen a World Series since 1908, went into applause because their team won another game, putting them closer to a playoff spot. In the middle of that was a man who was recently accused of domestic violence.

While I've thought about this at length in discussions with friends, it was never something I thought I could speak on with fervor, but discussion, of any kind, is what is going to make this change. What sparked this internal, and now external, discussion of this topic was highlighted with a tweet by Katie Nolan:

The response is not necessary to look into. What is important is what Nolan states. We look past domestic violence disputes. The amount of times I have seen people calling these females horrific names, stating that this is a "money grab" is atrocious. And we, as a society, have the audacity to put these figures back into the public eye without even bringing it up. Recently, more sports writers are tackling the issues of domestic violence, which is a long awaited step that needed to happen since the start of sports journalism. That's all well and good, but Chapman was suspended for 30 games and then he gets to be back on top of his world. That is not fair or correct. Some can make an argument where the legal system did its diligence and found that nothing happened. You can agree with that sentiment or you can look at the power dynamics in these cases.

It is well known that having a good lawyer or lawyers can get you a better deal or acquitted of any wrongdoing. They are powerful people because of their money and if they get in trouble, they have the financial capability to wiggle around any true punishment. What Chapman did was wrong there's no doubt, but some can argue that it never passed the "alleged" phase, so let's look at a more concrete case of domestic violence.

Jose Reyes, once member of the Colorado Rockies, was arrested in the offseason when Reyes had a physical altercation with his wife. Reyes was suspended until May 31, the equivalent of 52 games. The Rockies made a wise decision and designated him for assignment, although they are on the hook for his $40 million left on his contract. It was a tough pill to swallow, but Colorado was an upstanding organization in this aspect of not tolerating that behavior from its players. The issue? Reyes signed with the big league team he came up with, the New York Mets. Over time, Reyes was back into playing shape and up in the big leagues. This man received a standing ovation. Yes, the fans of the Metropolitans applauded a man who beat his wife in the offseason came back in a time where they "needed" a shortstop like him. That's not to say other fans were upset and booed him, but the fact is this man is playing baseball again with no repercussions other than a slightly damaged public image. 

I hear often that these players "did their time" or they "deserve a second chance," but you can make the argument they do not deserve another chance. Depending on the severity of the violence, the accused can serve no jail time or up to four years of jail time. While I am not proposing that Chapman and Reyes deserved jail time, forfeiting of salary for the allotted amount of games suspended seems weak. 

Unfortunately, as a society, we are not as strict on athletes as we should be. There is a superiority complex that we instill. These athletes are larger than life. Some, like members of the Baylor football team, get help from those higher up to cover up some behavior that could get members of their team jailed for a long time. This is a culture issue in the United States. We do not properly teach these people, who are obviously very talented in some aspect, how to respect another human being. We create monsters that do not think that they can be touched because of their fame and money. It runs rampant on college campuses and most most members of these institutions look the other way because the person being accused might be making that school millions upon millions of dollars. We must be better. We cannot stand for letting those people get off for crimes that severely damage another physically or emotionally or both.

Major League Baseball did what they could, giving Reyes the largest suspension possible given the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Major League Baseball Player's Association. The fact is, these organizations are a business and they see the valuable asset that performs on the field, but sometimes do not think about the off field issues. What can be done by Major League Baseball organizations is a collective effort to not sign these players. The issue in the present day is your competitor might not have the same morals as you, and they not get a small PR hit, but the benefit of an all-star closer by overlooking the domestic violence incident. Major League Baseball is ahead of the National Football League with their handling of domestic violence, but it is not enough.

Athletes are sometimes immune to the consequences of the dreadful acts they commit. Some get cheered for the rest of their life. The domestic violence gets wiped to the side, the rape accusation gets silenced because an institution pays off the accuser. People point that it is a money grab, but you or I can never project on these victims. It is not our place to say what a victim is feeling or thinking. Be respectful of those in that situation and think before you start cheering for someone with a cloudy past just because they are on your favorite team.

Please, let's change and uphold everyone to a higher standard. 

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