They’re carefully worded statements, to be sure, and though brief, it’s clear that agents, various handlers, and front office representatives worked diligently to make sure the right pitch and tone was struck.
Still, José Reyes chose to portray allegedly grabbing his wife, Katherine Ramirez, by the throat and slamming her into a sliding glass door while they were on vacation in Hawaii in October as a “mistake”—a thing that just sort of landed on Reyes’ doorstep, and not a potentially criminal act he perpetrated, dodging prosecution only when Ramirez declined to cooperate.
“As I have expressed in the past, I deeply regret the incident that occurred,” Reyes said in a statement on Saturday after the New York Mets announced that they’d plucked him off the waiver wire. If that scans as an oddly passive way to talk about intimate partner violence, it’s more or less the same phrasing as his initial attempt to ask for forgiveness: “I want to apologize for everything that has happened.”
Management was no better.
“I came away feeling that he had taken responsibility for this mistake on his part, that he was remorseful,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. “He obviously has paid a penalty for this, both financially and in terms of his career. He, I believe, is committed to ongoing counseling and support of organizations working against domestic abuse.”
Penalty-wise, yes, Reyes was docked about $6.1 million dollars during his 51-game suspension, but he’s still collecting the remaining $39 million the Rockies owe him. He has also complied with Major League Baseball’s insistence that he attend counseling and donate $100,000 dollars to organizations working to combat and treat victims of intimate partner violence before being allowed to return to the field. Whether Reyes is truly sorry and has begun taking serious steps towards understanding what led him down this path is beyond the ability of anyone not named Jose Reyes or any medical professionals treating Jose Reyes to know.
But it’s hard not to be deeply cynical and view Alderson’s assertion that the Mets have a “responsibility,” he said, “to be leaders in this area of fighting domestic abuse,” as anything more than corporate entity purchasing indulgences, furrowing its brow, and issuing sternly worded statements to quell any sense of outrage and potential backlash.
The Mets will keep Reyes around as long as he can provide a reasonable facsimile of the top of the batting order hellion he was during his first stint in New York, and if so, he’ll be given a hero’s welcome. His alleged violent acts will be rendered equal to any other obstacles an athlete might overcome on his or her path to glory, or worse, minimized by describing them as “baggage.”
Look at what’s happened in the Bronx. Shortly after Christmas, the New York Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman for pennies on the dollar after he fired off eight rage-fueled gunshots in his garage and allegedly choked the mother of his child.
No arrests were made, though, “due to conflicting stories and a lack of cooperation from all parties involved,” according to the police report. After he first took the mound following a 30-game suspension, NJ.com felt compelled to call the disturbing chain of events that put him in pinstripes launching 100-plus miles per hour fastballs, a gift.
“The Yankees woke up and found a late Christmas present hiding under the tree,” Ryan Hatch wrote. “While they’ve known all along what it was, on Monday they finally were allowed to tear off the wrapping paper and play with it.”
The mistake here is laboring under the delusion that pro sports teams and leagues can be or ever will be moral actors. Like any multibillion-dollar company, their only concern is the bottom line. Though the NFL, MLB, and NBA have increased the severity of their suspensions, empowering them to serve as kind of shadow court that makes up for the failures of the criminal justice system to adjudicate intimate partner violence is the wrong way to attack the problem. That’s especially true when they’re still willing to let their ethics slide or turn a blind eye towards unacceptable behavior if an athlete can produce, or when their efforts are revealed as so much PR-driven fluff.
Take the NFL’s Domestic Violence Committee, established by commissioner Roger Goodell following the uproar over his absolute bungling of the Ray Rice suspensions. It would be nice to learn what they’ve accomplished in the last two years, but they refused to speak with the Daily Beast when approached for comment, and the “activist” organization the NFL partnered with, NO MORE, “doesn’t seem to actually do anything, aside from existing as a brand,” while blandly hammering away at the non-phrase, “raising awareness,” as Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz reported.
Although it’s been a hot button issue of late, for many fans, intimate partner violence isn’t considered nearly enough of an ethical transgression to keep them from watching the games. As Jessica Luther wrote at ESPN, not much has changed over the last 20 years.
“It is the hurdle of indifference that is the hardest to jump when it comes to changing and mitigating the problem of domestic violence,” she writes. “Stories that include domestic violence are rarely about it, about how often it happens or about the tragic possibility of a fatal escalation for a victim at the hands of an abuser.”
For those who can’t stomach the thought of rooting for Reyes, Chapman and others—or at the worst, would like to feel a little bit better about supporting a team that’s willing to keep an abuser on the payroll—of course there’s a desire to empower a multibillion-dollar industry with actual clout to take action, to mete out punishment or make abusers feel a fraction of the fear and agony that they’ve caused.
But booting Reyes or Chapman from baseball altogether won’t do anything to halt the procession of “20 people per minute” that “are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States,“ according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In fact, according to one expert, the threat posed by blacklisting and banishment can make victims less willing to come forward.
“What we don’t want is for someone, the moment the police are called, is for an athlete to lose his entire career,” Cindy Southworth, the executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told The New York Times. “It would create huge, unfathomable pressure not to call 911 if they knew their loved one’s career would be in jeopardy.”
If all of this scans as terribly hopeless, a brutish, repetitive and wholly predictable cycle with little hope of being broken, it should.
On Thursday, the New York Knicks officially acquired Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls. Exactly two weeks before that, it was announced he would be deposed in a civil court case that “accused him of gang raping and drugging his ex-girlfriend.” All three local papers ran a back page that renamed Madison Square Garden “Rose Garden,” and the trial was a mere, literal sidebar.
On Sunday, Reyes began a stint with the Single-A Brooklyn Cyclones. Everyone cheered.