All posts by Adam Cellon

The Drought is Over! (but domestic violence is still an issue)

A few weeks ago, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in the tenth inning of Game 7. The game, which has already been called the “greatest World Series Game 7 ever”, ended the Cubs’ 108 year drought and brought pure, unadulterated joy to thousands of Chicagoans and Cubs fans all over the country.

This game was a huge deal… obviously. But it’s not just this game, or this Series, or even baseball – sports make up a huge cultural phenomenon that goes way beyond the game itself. Michael Kimmel, in his book Guyland, writes about how sports allow us to “defy the cardinal rule of masculinity – Don’t Cry.” In fact, you can find a whole lot of guys crying about the Cubs. A video of a man crying when the Cubs won the National League went viral a few weeks ago, and Jimmy Kimmel invited him onto his show, saying “that’s a man, right there.” I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of institutions that encourage men to feel and express a fuller range of emotions.

Despite all these tears of joy from the men of the Windy City, not all is well in Wrigleyville. On July 25, the Cubs traded for Yankees’ pitcher Aroldis Chapman, the world record holder for fastest pitch who went on to keep the Cubs alive in Game 5 of the Series. A short while before that trade, though, Chapman served a 30-game suspension for violating the MLB’s domestic violence policy after shooting eight rounds from a handgun into his garage wall and allegedly choking his girlfriend.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that this isn’t that shocking; domestic violence is all too common in professional sports. Not only that, but the justice system often fails to punish athletes who allegedly perpetrate these crimes, as Bethany Withers writes in the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law.

In August 2015, the MLB adopted a sweeping new Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse Policy, which many within the MLB and outside it have praised as a step (or maybe a leap) in the right direction. As it turns out, Aroldis Chapman was the first player to be punished under this policy.

Chapman’s presence on the team, with his history of domestic violence, makes a lot of fans uncomfortable – including me. It’s easy to feel conflicted about a player that does a lot for your team but has a really problematic past (or present). But what can we do?

Caitlin Swieca, a diehard Cubs fan facing this exact question, gives us one option – start a viral hashtag and raise $31,000 for domestic violence agencies. (Or, you know, make donations to and volunteer for charities on your own – every little bit helps.)

There are other options, too. We can support comprehensive domestic violence policies like the MLB’s, encourage other leagues to adopt similar policies, and make sure to keep commissioners, owners, and executives accountable. The easiest, and possibly most important, thing we can do is to continue talking about it.

Remember that talent doesn’t negate character and choices, so avoid saying things like, “sure, he’s not a good guy… but did you see that 105mph pitch?” We have to find a balance between respecting the work and success of a team and refusing to ignore discussions about players’ actions off the field. Resist the thinking that there’s some sort of acceptability equation, where as long as a player is more than this talented and less than that problematic, it’s acceptable to support them. It’s not about holding athletes to some “higher standard” – it’s about actually holding them to our standards, regardless of their skills on the field.

Professional athletes, with their sponsorships and corporate contracts, sink or swim based on public opinion, so express yours! Keep these conversations going – in front of the TV or on Twitter, on the field or on Facebook.

“Locker Room Banter” and Bad Apologies

At this point, you’ve undoubtedly heard or read about what The Washington Post is calling Donald Trump’s “extremely lewd conversation about women” with Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in 2005. In this conversation, the video of which was obtained by the Post this past week, Trump describes non-consensual kissing (“I just start kissing them… I don’t even wait.”) and groping (“grab them by the pussy.”). He goes on to say that, with his level of fame, “you can do anything.”

There’s obviously a lot to discuss about the conversation itself: James Hamblin makes the important distinction between lewd and misogynistic speech, while Jessica Valenti notes the very real worry for women of being an objectified punchline. Rather than talk more about the abhorrent remarks themselves, I want to focus on Trump’s response to the scandal.

Statement from Donald J. Trump: "This was locker-room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course - not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended."
The entirety of Trump’s official statement responding to the 2005 conversation reported by The Washington Post.

In Trump’s official statement, he describes this discussion of sexual assault as “locker room banter,” chipping away the gravity of his actions with a boys-will-be-boys attitude. (I’ve never had a locker room conversation like this, have you?) By playing off this dehumanizing conversation as a normal guy thing, Trump is confirming the toxic stereotype that male sexuality is uncontrollable and aggressive.

“Locker room banter” like this is more than just uncomfortable; it can create a “false consensus” about what is acceptable within a community. A man in this toxic locker room could hear “I don’t even wait… you can do anything,” and walk away believing that his community doesn’t care about consent – whether or not that’s actually true. This false consensus can easily lead to the illusion of peer support, one of the three conditions necessary for sexual assault to occur, according to Chris Kilmartin. (If that’s not rape culture, I don’t know what is.)

Obviously, we can’t know whether Bill Clinton actually “has said far worse,” as Trump claims. If he has, then he has actively participated in building a community supportive of Trump’s misogyny. Even if he hasn’t, he may have been complicit in allowing Trump to hold onto his own false consensus. In fact, he’s only in the right if he’s called out Trump’s behavior.

In the statement’s last sentence, we get to the actual “apology” part. Rather than accept blame and apologize for both the things he said and the pain he caused, Trump apologizes “if anyone was offended;” he downplays the consequences of his actions with what Stanford psychologist Karina Schumann calls “minimization.”  In fact, Trump’s statement illustrates three of the four defensive strategies that Schumann lays out as aspects of bad apologies: justification (“Bill Clinton has said far worse”), excuse (describing it as “locker room banter”), victim blaming, and minimization.

So what makes a good apology? Schumann breaks it down into eight parts:

  1. Expressing remorse for your actions
  2. Accepting responsibility for what you did
  3. Trying to fix the damage you’ve caused
  4. Trying to explain your actions, without giving an external reason
  5. Promising to be better
  6. Acknowledging how you harmed others
  7. Admitting that your actions were wrong
  8. Asking for forgiveness

A few hours after releasing the statement above, Trump also released a 90 second video in which he admits that he was wrong and apologizes, this time without the conditional if. A few seconds later, though, he characterizes his heinous comments and coverage of them as “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.” Instead of continuing with a heartfelt apology, Trump quickly returns to defensive minimization.

Unfortunately, even a perfect apology wouldn’t be enough. Let’s add a ninth part to Schumann’s recipe: actually being and doing better. The attitudes that Donald Trump has shown aren’t unique – they’re symptoms of the toxic masculinity that we teach and perpetuate. It’s up to all of us, especially men, to put a stop to it.