A good friend of mine is a dyed-in-the-wool Baltimore Ravens fan. In 2013, when news broke of Ray Rice’s alleged domestic violence and subsequent suspension, I wasn’t hesitant about using this latest indiscretion as an example of the NFL’s increased leniency on awful off the field incidents. My party line at that point was that in some ways I admired the moral bankruptcy of a league so willing to brush grave issues under the rug in the name of saving face. After all, MLB has done an excellent job of the exact opposite by unwittingly blowing up everything into a game-smearing gotcha ploy. Nonetheless, the NFL was monetizing a horrible moment in some strangely grotesque way.
My friend’s feeling was what I expected from a typical NFL fan: “Rice wasn’t convicted,” “the charges were dropped,” and “he technically didn’t break the law.” Yeah, right. After video of Rice’s punch surfaced, it was difficult to defend him and even the NFL was forced to strong arm the running back out of the league. Again my friend’s response was that, by law, Rice didn’t commit a crime. This very well could’ve been a shockingly out of character moment for an otherwise stand-up guy. Cue the Willy Wonka meme…
This all leads me to Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees’ newest bullpen piece. A man so good at slinging lightning fast pitches that last season he threw far more than double the amount of 100 mph heaters as his closest competitor. The result was a hefty 15.74 k/9, easily the best in baseball. Following him was Andrew Miller’s 14.59 and Dellin Betances’ 14.04, who both also happen to be hanging around behind the Yankees’ outfield fence. The move makes New York’s bullpen dynamic to say the least. If the team can take a lead into the 7th in 2016, it will be time to race for the exits more often than it won’t. For a team who had an otherwise uncharacteristically quiet offseason, the trade was a burst of energy, especially considering they got Chapman for a handful of promising, but limited prospects. It was lopsided and exciting. And just in time for baseball season.
But there’s a reason the Yankees got the best reliever in the game for a bag of chips and a six pack…
As a Yankees fan, the last thing I wanted to hear was about Chapman’s alleged domestic dispute back in October. In fact, the only thing I really considered about the event was that it might result in a suspension which could delay Chapman’s free agency, allowing the Yankees to retain him for an extra season. My new party line became, “I pay to watch him strike out batters, not feed the homeless.” In short, when my team entered the vortex of controversial off-field events, I became an ignorant asshole. Because, like my friend, it was personal and my pride could justify anything when necessary.
Now that a week has passed and rationality has knocked, I find myself wondering how I feel about Aroldis as a Yankee. Will he be a detriment to the clubhouse? Is this violence a character trait? Anybody know a violent coworker? How much do you like working with him? It’s easy to look at Chapman’s Instagram, littered with photos of fancy cars, expensive clothes, and muscle-bound gym pics, and start adding up how Chapman’s personality comes with red flags. This may be one incident, or it may be the rule for a guy on the verge of combustion.
Perhaps more importantly, the question in my mind is also where we draw the line on leniency and where we accept second chances. Punching a woman on video clearly repulsed the public enough that even the NFL couldn’t ignore it. But are we kicking the can down the street on turning a blind-eye? At some point will murder be OK, as long as the law says it wasn’t “really” murder? Has that already occurred with Rice’s teammate Ray Lewis? Chapman, to be fair, wasn’t even arrested for the incident. With what we know now, hanging him for this would be equally ignorant. However, I still don’t agree with my friend’s excuse that, “If the law says he’s not a criminal then the league shouldn’t either.” Domestic abuse is far too nuanced for such a complicit stance.
At the end of the day, I want to believe in second chances and as my friend says, “You can’t judge a person by the worst moment in his or her life.” It’s fair to think perhaps this was indeed the worst moment of the Chapmans’ lives. An embarrassing event, far out of character, that will never happen again.
Until Chapman proves these simmering fears and prejudices are only that, he won’t be the easiest player to root for. Yet, if you offered me virtually any player not named Trout, Harper, or Kershaw for Chapman straight up, I’d tell you to go scratch. (I see you Carlos Correa.) You’ll hear a lot of Yankees fans saying this same thing. We hate him, but you’re kidding yourself if you think we’re letting him go. The hypocrisy of fandom.
Featured Image: Via MLB Daily Dish