MLB ahead of the curve on domestic violence policy, but it’s still far from perfect

Let’s set aside for a moment the sordid details of Aroldis Chapman‘s alleged domestic violence incident. Let’s forget that the man best known for choking the life out of opposing hitters by firing fastballs at them like bullets may be an awful human being who choked his girlfriend and fired several bullets into the wall of his garage. And let’s also pretend that the Cincinnati Reds didn’t know about this and that their haste to trade the game’s most dominant closer had nothing to do with the fear that he’d soon be damaged goods.

It’s easier to pretend, isn’t it? Easier to avoid pulling back the curtain and looking into the deep reaches of the unknown. After all, it’s worked really well thus far, right?

But sometimes the only way to kill a monster is to confront it head-on and drag it out from the darkness in which it thrives. And while too many still avert their eyes when confronted with the nasty truth that’s been festering under our stairs for far too long, the issue of domestic violence is one we need to see and to understand. This is an evil with roots running far deeper than the tenuous topsoil sports provide. It’s a pervasive depravity that we’d just as soon pretend wasn’t woven into the very fabric of human existence.

While the on-field exploits of athletes are generally inconsequential to our greater existence, the broad platform afforded them by our obsession with sports makes what those athletes do off the field that much more influential. For all the sports world’s a stage, and all the players merely men and women like the rest of us. They are flawed and faulty, but we often look past that when they can throw or hit a ball.

Until, that is, we can’t look past it.

What your neighbor down the street does to his wife after he’s had a few too many barley sodas might not even make it past his front door, let alone to the featured story section of every sports website in the country. The former is too often the case even if your neighbor down the street earns millions of dollars for his athletic endeavors, though the tide seems to be turning a bit. While no one would laud the root cause, the fact that more victims of domestic violence are coming forward is a good thing.

Formerly content to remain in the familiar shadows along with their guilt and pain and — perhaps the most influential of emotions — fear, survivors are choosing to step onto that stage previously reserved for the supermen and women before and beneath whom they had cowered. Make no mistake, stepping forward may be at least as daunting a task as remaining silent. Squinting through the glare of the spotlights — the sunglasses that hid those bruises don’t work so well against the metaphysical illumination of the public eye — victims fear the inevitable examination — and perhaps assassination — of their very character.

For many, sports are a refuge, a haven to which we can retreat when the world at large has ground us beneath its boot heel. In lives replete with nuance and with rules we can never quite seem to grasp, we can find solace in a game played between lines of chalk and dictated by numbers on the scoreboard. But what about when the travails of real life encroach upon our hallowed sporting ground?

Where once we could unabashedly support our heroes, trusting that they truly were the archetypal representation of all that was good and pure, we are being increasingly forced to see them as merely human. Or perhaps we see them as something even worse, since their strength and stature should put them in the position to protect those around them. In contemplating this, I’m reminded of The Watchmen, that seminal graphic novel cum feature film about a group of imperfect superheroes, and the starkly condemning line one of the main characters utters.

“What happened to the American dream?” The Comedian asks rhetorically. “It came true. You’re lookin’ at it.”

So it did and so we are. Leagues can no longer afford to simply have their players turn their dirty laundry in to the locker room attendant or bury their skeletons next to Jimmy Hoffa in the Meadowlands swamp. As such, they have

Cases like Chapman’s and that of Jose Reyes earlier in the offseason will be high-profile tests of the new Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA back in August. Under the policy, the Commissioner has the ability to “place a player accused of [insert awful behavior here] on paid Administrative Leave for up to seven days while the allegations are investigated before making a disciplinary decision.”

It’s important to note that this isn’t a situation in which MLB is falling back on the results of a trial or legal appeal, a la Greg Hardy in the NFL, as the Commissioner’s Office will be investigating incidents and levying punishments. In fact, “the Commissioner can issue the discipline he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct [emphasis mine].” Whether a player is charged or convicted or not, the policy has no definitions or limitations in terms of the manner or length of baseball’s imposed punishment.

In light of the PR nightmares that have ensnared other pro sports leagues of late, I can see Rob Manfred and MLB making a pretty big statement here (pending their investigation, of course) in terms of the punishment levied. This kind of behavior isn’t acceptable in any walk of life, but we’ve seen time and again how the legal system and the big business of professional sports have enabled it in too many instances for too many people.

My hope is that Manfred’s office carries out a thorough investigation and sets an example for how such business should be conducted. I hope they are relatively transparent with it too, if not with the general public then with their compatriots in football, basketball, hockey, et al. And I hope that, if their findings corroborate the initial report, they drop the hammer on Chapman and Reyes and all those others who will surely come after them.

Most of all, I hope that the bright lights of publicity will force all of us to look at the reality of domestic violence in the world around us, whether in sports or otherwise. This isn’t a baseball problem and it’s not a sports problem. It’s a human problem. And last I checked, we’re all human. Well, most of us. I’m not naive enough to believe that MLB can cure the insidious disease of domestic violence, but I guess I am naive enough to think that baseball, not to mention those of us who love and support it, can indeed make a difference.

That was both longer and a bit more depressing at times than I’d planned for, but I feel a good deal better now than I did when I started. Would that life always worked like that. Be well, my friends.

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