Off The Field

Allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault among high-profile athletes are nothing new.  From Kobe Bryant to Ben Roethlisberger to O.J. Simpson, the laundry list of names has grown too numerous to count. While it is tempting to blame the activities, athletics themselves, for rewarding aggression and physically overwhelming an adversary, that is too simplistic of an explanation. 

The #MeToo Movement has shown us that no industry, especially any industry that routinely puts men in positions of unchecked power, is immune to these issues.  Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein did not gain their success by hitting the weight room.  This is not a problem exclusive to sports, but the prevalence of these stories should not be ignored. 

July of 2021

Two recent, high-profile cases have certainly put sports back in the spotlight when it comes to these issues.  Earlier this month, NFL defensive back Richard Sherman was arrested in connection with a horrible incident involving a woman claiming to be his wife calling 911 and the football player himself crashing his car.  The Seattle Times reports that those 911 calls contain claims that Sherman was threatening to kill himself (Condotta, Green & Malone, 2021).

Trevor Bauer, who was already a controversial figure for some offensive comments he has made on social media in the past, has found himself the suspect in a very serious sexual assault allegation.  This past offseason, the pitcher signed a three-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers for over one-hundred-million dollars.  He was dominant in the early part of the season, before being shelved by Major League Baseball under their domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy (Castillo, 2021).

Both of these cases are ongoing, so discussing them as news items in this format would be meaningless.  These two cases serve to remind the outside world that domestic violence and sexual assault are ever-present issues.  Those of us who are survivors do not need our memories refreshed on the topic. 

Dodgers Face a Familiar Problem

This isn’t the first time the Dodgers have gone after a talented pitcher, only to have allegations of abusive behavior thwart their plans.  Back in 2015, Los Angeles made a trade with the Cincinnati Reds for hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman.  The Cuban-exile was arguably the most intimidating reliever in the sport, and the Dodgers needed to find a way to get them over the hump in postseason play. 

Before the trade could be completed, an incident occurred in which Chapman was accused of choking his twenty-two-year-old girlfriend.  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred also insinuated that his research indicated that a firearm was involved.  Whether it be for moral reasons, public relations reasons, or possibly just wanting to avoid a distraction, Los Angeles decided not to go through with the trade (RotoWire Staff, 2015).

In the weeks to follow, Chapman would be dealt to the New York Yankees, where he was required to serve a thirty-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season.  A forty-six-game suspension would have been a huge financial blow to the pitcher, but Manfred elected not to punish the hurler to that extent (Hagen & Hoch, 2016),.

Ironically, by the end of the 2016 season, the Yankees would also deal with Chapman.  New York sent him to the Chicago Cubs, who were in the hunt for their first World Series Championship since 1908.  After one of Chapman’s relief appearances that season, a Wrigley Field DJ played the 1997 song from Prodigy “Smack My B***h Up.”  That disc jockey was promptly fired (Muskat, 2016).

In a statement, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney claimed, “we apologize for the irresponsible music selection during our game last night.”  The statement contained no apology for paying millions of dollars to a man accused of strangling a twenty-two-year-old woman while having possession of a firearm.  The disc jockey lost his job, and the millionaire missed thirty games (Muskat, 2016).

Whatever motives caused the Dodgers to pass on Chapman in 2015, the organization appears to be trying to do everything possible to make the right decisions with Bauer in 2021.  The team immediately canceled promotions that involved Bauer, including his scheduled bobblehead night.  Bauer’s merchandise had also been removed from the team store. 

Richard Sherman

There is still so much we don’t know about the Richard Sherman incident, and this is not a news article.  Sherman was a Super Bowl champion with the Seattle Seahawks, and he was a five-time Pro Bowler.  After coming out of Stanford, one of the best universities in the United States, Sherman surprised many experts with his success at the pro-level.  As a fifth-round draft pick, he was not projected to have that type of impact.  He even has his own charity, Blanket Coverage – The Richard Sherman Foundation that provides school supplies and clothing to low-income children.

These things aren’t being listed to make excuses for Sherman or to make a case for his character.  It is important to remember that sometimes the ones who look like the good guys can be the ones fooling everybody. 

Trevor Bauer had a reputation of being…well, to be honest…a jerk.  When these allegations became public, there were not a lot of sports fans who were surprised.  Sherman, on the other hand, was a surprise.  It isn’t to say that either allegation has more or less credibility than the other.  We just need to be cognoscente of the fact that we don’t know how any public figures are acting behind closed doors.

The Fans

You can like it, or loathe it, but professional athletes are role models.  The younger generations look up to Mike Trout, LeBron James, and Patrick Mahomes like older generations looked up to Michael Jordan or Mickey Mantle or…well, O.J. Simpson.  To attempt to change this would be to attempt to change the entire notion of celebrity.  That is a much more difficult undertaking than finding ways to deal with the fact that they are role models. 

The fact that the Dodgers made the right decision in the Chapman deal, and appear to be making the right decisions in the Bauer deal, is a step in the right direction.  Chapman was the first Major League Player to suffer any penalty under Major League Baseball’s policy on domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.  That was back in 2016.  Now, Bauer is in that protocol.  As late as Major League Baseball has been to the party, there is an apparatus to punish players with credible accusations against them.  The Major League Baseball Players Association had to approve extensions for Bauer to be on “paid administrative leave.”  Just the fact that the MLBPA is working with the league on this situation is a good sign. 

As survivors, it is just another reminder that there are abusers everywhere and that the structures that should exist to protect victims are always going to be slower than needed.  We also know that every safe haven or distraction we use as escapism from what has happened to us can, and most likely will end up providing us with just more examples of how pervasive abuse is in our culture.

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team

How do we act as fans?  This may be the hardest question of all.  If we use sports as an escape, it can be crushing to have that taken away from us.  We know not every Cubs fan who wanted Aroldis Chapmen to succeed in the 2016 World Series is a bad person. 

Still, our continued pressure on these teams does make a difference.  This organization is called Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, which means that we should always be looking to call out these actions when we see them.  If you are a fan of a team, and there is an athlete with a history of violence against women, tell that team how you feel.  Don’t buy merchandise containing that athlete’s image. 

As this particular blog hits the internet, the Dodgers have seemingly been doing everything possible to cut ties with Trevor Bauer.  At the trade deadline, Los Angeles went out and acquired one of the best pitchers in baseball in a deal with the Washington Nationals.  Max Scherzer will now be a member of the Dodgers pitching rotation, and presumably is filling the role left vacant by Bauer (Alden, 2021).  This is complete conjecture, but it stands to reason that the organization must have known Major League Baseball would be supportive of separation from Bauer.  This is a clear indication that both the league and the team are taking this seriously…much like the Dodgers did with Chapman in 2015.

The fact of the matter is that we can’t let off the gas in any profession.  It can be hard when we have learned so many of our favorite athletes, actors, comedians, and politicians have horrible histories of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.  It can feel like we will never get a break.  Truth be told, we will never get a break.  We must remain vigilant.  The Dodgers appear to be doing the right thing in the Trevor Bauer situation, but that is because the right thing just happens to be in their best interest.  Knowing the blowback, they would receive is what is forcing their hand with Bauer. 

References

Castillo (2021), Trevor Bauer’s Administrative Leave is Extended Another Seven Days, Los Angeles Times, https://news.yahoo.com/trevor-bauers-administrative-leave-extended-191131185.html

Condotta, Green, Malone (2021), Former Seahawk Richard Sherman Arrested on Investigation of Domestic-violence Burglary, Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/former-seahawk-cb-richard-sherman-arrested-on-suspicion-of-burglary-domestic-violence/

Gonzalez (2021), Los Angeles Dodgers Acquire Stars Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from Washington Nationals, ESPN.com, https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/31914949/los-angeles-dodgers-making-progress-deal-acquire-stars-max-scherzer-trea-turner-washington-nationals-sources-say

Hagen & Hoch (2016), Chapman Gets 30-game Suspension from MLB, MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/news/yankees-aroldis-chapman-suspended-30-games-c165860226

Muskat (2016), Cubs Apologize for Post-Chapman Song Choice, MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/news/cubs-fire-deejay-for-aroldis-chapman-song-c195703482

Roto Wire Staff (2015, Dodgers’ Aroldis Chapman: Trade to Dodgers in limbo, CBSSports.com, https://www.cbssports.com/fantasy/baseball/news/dodgers-aroldis-chapman-trade-to-dodgers-in-limbo/