Cubs reliever Aroldis Chapman holds the record for the fastest recorded pitch speed in MLB history (105.1).
85% of domestic abuse victims are women. 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime.
Chapman’s the fastest MLB pitcher to reach 500 strikeouts.
In 2 out of 3 female homicide cases, females are killed by a family member or intimate partner.
Discussing these two kinds of data is not alike. And yet, we try.
Violence against women in this country, and other countries, is far too normal, and a societal crisis. To talk about it in a baseball context requires measured thoughtfulness and awareness. Unfortunately, that’s been difficult for the men who play, manage, and write about the game.
For baseball writers, finding the humanity in the jumble of advanced stats is our job. We’re looking for the element that grounds the analysis of offense and defense. But it’s easier to handle the human reality of being a player when we connect it to how he’s performing. We write about the “mental side,” about “paralysis by analysis” or how booing night after night is affecting a player. We wax poetic on players close to retirement, and the emotional experience facing the last days of their career is. We do write about more personal redemption; about recovery from addiction and bereavement.
But when it comes to domestic violence, we can falter.
In a column for USA Today last week, baseball writer Bob Nightengale wrote about Chapman’s trade to the Cubs, or, rather, he wrote about domestic violence, in order to make a baseball argument. The headlines read: ‘No shame on Cubs’ and ‘Cubs don’t deserve heat for deal.’ Writers aren’t responsible for headlines, and often not story titles, but Nightengale’s story is clear in tone and argument.
“Chapman found himself defending his character while the Cubs morals were openly questioned for acquiring the best closer in baseball.”
The idea that he “found himself” being questioned is puzzling, because he actually created the situation that led to that moment. He didn’t wake up in Oz with ToTo, baffled by what had befallen him. And of course the Cubs morals were “openly” questioned. Character is supposedly part of the game. But Nightengale writes as if the questions were preposterous. And in case you need reminding why: “the best closer in baseball,” he writes.
He goes on to write that, “Sure, no one is going to excuse Chapman for that evening.” Then continues, “Even if he never laid a hand on his girlfriend, as he says, it’s inexcusable to be shooting a gun during an argument.”
Of note: the NCADV also reports that the presence of a gun increases the chance of homicide by 500%. Statistics illustrating how much a player who committed domestic violence increases a team’s chances of winning are also available, should you choose to compare.
Nightengale crystalizes his argument in the next two paragraphs:
“Look, major league teams are in the business of winning, no matter what it takes,” he explains.
“There might be a segment of Cubs fans sick that their team acquired him, but how many of those same fans would be absolutely livid if the Washington Nationals ended the season with Chapman on the mound for the final out?”
Cubs first baseman-outfielder Kris Bryant is also quoted, saying, “If we didn’t trade for him, we’d be facing him. He was going somewhere.”
So, Nightengale concludes, “There’s no need to apologize for acquiring him.”
When the Yankees were in the process of trying to make a deal for Chapman, the Cincinnati Reds were one potential partner. Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked at that time what he thought of the team possibly acquiring the closer, and his answers were weak to most ears; but for domestic violence survivors, sounded a lot like ‘Maybe she asked for it.’
“I don’t believe reports. Who knows why? Who says the allegations are true? And who’s to say what you would have done or what caused the problem.”
Various quotes from the interview were troubling, including saying “Abusers don’t always have pants on,” and that he hadn’t seen the police report. Which, it seems, he probably should’ve had a better grasp of what happened in order to comment on it and declare Chapman, “a heck of a guy.” He probably is in a baseball sense. No one’s arguing that.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said that he felt “certain” Chapman got “the message” that the Cubs were sending in a pre-trade conversation. He also went on to say he’d been “less than perfect,” equating other less than perfect actions with violence against women. Cubs third baseman Anthony Rizzo, however, felt that the media was the problem. He began by making a confusing statement about Chapman’s time in New York.
“He just survived after three months in New York without even a peep. So for that to be brought up again, I think it’s unfair to him. It’s a big deal, obviously, and that’s a big topic, especially now.”
Rizzo is in agreement with Nightengale. This has all been very unfair to Chapman, and to the Cubs, but, also, obviously, domestic violence is important. Especially now. Or something.
Here are some statements pulled from the hashtag Twitter campaign #WhyIStayed, which survivors of domestic violence used to share their experiences, and to answer the popular question, “Why did you stay?”
Katie Clark @omgcornflakes: Because when he said he was sorry, I trusted that he meant it wouldn’t happen again.
@MaybeHeDoesntHitYou Because I was hoping it was a phase, and he would change. He didn’t.
@DivANarcBlog Because I thought all our problems were my fault.
Women who are victims of violent or sexual crimes are accustomed to hearing about second chances, overreaction, and the mind trick of making the abuser’s actions seem warranted, that somehow “she asked for it” or, to borrow from media personality Stephen A. Smith, there’s “elements of provocation.” (his response on First Take to Ray Rice knocking his fiancée Janay unconscious). Victims hear how “unfair” we are to come down so hard on the poor guy who just had a bad day; or to let go of what occurred in the past and, come on, no one is perfect.
Those are careless excuses for domestic abusers; and those guys with the Cubs are making them because he’s a great pitcher and they need him on the team. None of them seem aware at all of how domestic violence is defined or how it harms women, men, and children who are witness to that abuse. These are dangerously irresponsible messages to send.
But they talk and write about it, because it’s baseball and a player is accused. And fans talk about it with authority when their team acquires a player that’s been violent toward a woman; where they were once mostly consumed by stats and trades and wins, male baseball fans and reporters’ sure switch gears fast to lecture survivors, advocates and anyone who’s offended by a domestic abuser’s presence on a team. The fan response to Chapman was particularly strong, because he took minimal responsibility. He’s never been quite clear that he was sorry, because he also blamed being rich and famous.
It’s unclear if any of the men quoted have experience with victims of domestic violence. But if there’s anything we learn about writing, it’s write what you know. Did Nightengale research the facts on domestic violence as he did Chapman’s stats? If not, then the story is incomplete. Did he ask female Cubs fans how they felt about Chapman being traded to the Cubs? If not, then the story is incomplete. Stats are integral to telling a baseball story. And they’re integral in the story of domestic violence. Combining them is callous; a crude dismissal of an experience many women reading baseball writing and watching games survived. Trying to make a case for a pitcher with an unbelievable throwing arm, while also addressing the indignity and horror of domestic violence, is beyond callous. And it’s impossible.
“I don’t think it’s unfair,” said Cubs fan and Maryland resident Liz De Coster of Bryant’s comment. “I think wanting to know how the Cubs are handling the situation, and what Chapman is doing, even if it’s impacting other players…those are reasonable questions.”
No More, the widely known organization that works to prevent domestic violence and aid those who’ve been victims, recently tweeted a story about singer Kesha, and the fact that many women do not report intimate partner violence, and often decline to press charges. Nightengale makes a point of writing that no charges were filed, but, again, that’s a limited point of view on experience of domestic violence. It’s not an unfair point, but it’s a sloppy one when trying to discuss the issue.
One particularly positive thing that came out of the Chapman signing, and perhaps Nightengale and others will take note, was a hashtag campaign created by Cubs fan Caitlin Swieca. Out of her frustration, she decided to commit to donating $10 to a local Illinois shelter or organization for victims of domestic violence every time Chapman records a save. The #pitchin4DV campaign was born and has generated tons of donations and attention, allowing Cubs fans, or any one, to channel feelings of outrage and helplessness about Chapman and domestic violence into something productive.
That outrage doesn’t just disappear, as Nightengale suggests, if the Cubs win a World Series. Fans feel much deeper about this than perhaps he and many others believe.
There’s outrage over steroid use and gambling, but a player can beat his wife or girlfriend and no one wants to discuss it. And if your first thought was to get all hyped and furiously type, “But those things don’t affect the game!” then you’re part of the problem.
You’re right, beating a woman doesn’t change whether a guy can throw 105. Whether a player helps a team win isn’t connected to how he treats his family. But there’s something unsettling about simply thinking of how a player contributes to a team’s win, if he pushed a woman through a glass door or shot a loaded gun in the house during an argument. And if your response is,“But this is baseball! That’s what counts!” there’s the problem in a nutshell.
Does character only count for a Hall of Fame vote when a guy’s even under the slightest suspicion of steroid use? The character requirements are murky at this point.
And so the question remains. How do we perfectly balance talking and writing about domestic violence in connection with baseball? Really, we don’t. We can’t. None of us will ever find the perfect balance. We will always sound and read as though we’re fumbling in the dark for keys, as we try relating the two things for the sake of a story. If you’re a baseball writer, you can’t be expected to know how to write about domestic violence. If you’re a baseball manager, you can’t be expected to know how to deal with a player’s violence off the field, because you’re just a baseball manager and you have to put a team on the field. If you’re a player, you’re a teammate first, so you have to support him and give a nice, supportive statement to reporters about how you’re with your teammate and let’s play ball. There’s nothing else you can say or do, right?
Current Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi might disagree. In 2014, Odorizzi spoke at a Walk A Mile in her Shoes event for survivors of domestic violence and took a pledge which states you’re committed to ending sexual assault and domestic violence. And when the MLB DV Policy was being shaped and finalized, former Yankees manager Joe Torre was at the helm of MLB as Chief of Baseball Operations. He’s been a leader on this issue. After being inspired by his own childhood experiences with an abusive father, who also abused his mother, he established the Safe at Home Foundation. And prospect writer Keith Law has been a vocal advocate for much tougher language and punishment for those who’ve committed violence. In a tweeted response to Maddon’s bit about us all being less than perfect, Law wrote, ‘Nope, nope, nope, nope.” He continued:
“There are degrees of wrong. And domestic violence is worse than “reckless.”
There was also the alternative view of Chapman’s attitude from the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh, who wrote a piece that took Chapman to task for many things he said upon arrival in Chicago, including his most disturbing response, that was all of one word.
Haugh’s lede: “Before his first pitch for the Cubs, closer Aroldis Chapman blew a save opportunity.”
Haugh gives a detailed breakdown of Chapman’s violent behavior, per the report, and offers a thoughtful view of our connection to sports and redemption for athletes. But he goes on to write that “perhaps the most disappointing part of Chapman’s introduction…came when he was asked if he had any plans to get more involved to raise awareness of domestic violence. A shrug is universal.”
“No,” Chapman said.
Just, no. After all the ways he’s being embraced, after the chance he’s being given, and writers and baseball fans defending him want to know why many of us don’t buy in to this “second chances” and he’s served his suspension narrative? Because, as the headline says, “Aroldis Chapman doesn’t seem to get it.”
There are also women who’ve written and reported thoughtfully about the two subjects in relation to one another, including Chicago-based sports reporter Julie DiCaro and Prospectus writer Meg Rowley, who wrote:
“Language is a tricky thing. In a business like baseball, which is so preoccupied with the place where language meets image, it is often twisted. In moments of crisis, its messengers contort themselves around it, hoping to direct and funnel narratives, and shape words into a cohesive, coherent picture of the game or those who play it.”
Later, she writes, “Ultimately, believing language in the context of domestic violence is a good thing, if that language is kept honest. “
Late in July, DiCaro, also a Cubs fan, responded to a tweet about the Cubs acquisition of Chapman, saying, “Winning the WS doesn’t change my mind about domestic violence.” Another opinion being ignored in the chorus of fans who aren’t going to magically feel happy about Chapman, should there be a WS ring at the end of the road.
Di Caro’s point of view is particularly powerful as she’s written about her experiences as a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. She’s also been subjected to vile verbal abuse and threats on Twitter from sports fans. We’ve seen the powerful proof of baseball writers, who are also survivors, relating their experiences to help baseball fans understand the importance of the discussion, and why we can’t go easy on those who hurt women. As Rowley points out, the discussion must be honest, or we’re not talking at all.
Still, it’s awkward. We’re witnessing personal stories in the context of baseball. Who is able to balance that all out when reading? How should the baseball fan react to a story about domestic violence when she or he is trying to determine whether the player will help their team win? Are they wrong to struggle with how to put all this together? Are male baseball writers, like Nightengale, expected to cover baseball and domestic violence with finesse, knowledge and sensitivity?
Maybe not. But there are plenty of examples of writers who were. And if you feel you can’t, fine. If you struggle with that, and can’t deal with it, ok. But if you’re talking about stats and velocity, and ignoring the violence of a human being, you’re telling half the story. And that’s unacceptable. Because it’s impossible.