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.