The conflicting messages in MLB's progress on the issue of domestic violence
This week, baseball issued the second suspension for domestic violence as the first one was ending. So, underpinning the new MLB process on investigations, we have the image of Aroldis Chapman jogging from the New York Yankees' bullpen to the cheers of thousands.
Chapman was coming off a 30-game suspension for allegations of domestic violence, stemming from an incident at his Florida home that included him firing a gun in anger at the walls of his garage while the mother of his child hid outside the house waiting for the authorities to arrive. In some states, that would be a crime. Local police declined to arrest the pitcher.
And there was Chapman on Monday, cheered like a returning hero by Yankees fans.
Then, on Friday, Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes, who is alleged to have grabbed his wife by the throat and pushed her into a sliding glass door in a Hawaii hotel room, was suspended for 52 games and lost the roughly $6.2 million he would have been paid to play them.
Changing the league response is one thing, but bringing a fan base to the issue is another.
MLB has been deliberate about gathering the information it needed to justify suspensions like this when the criminal justice system doesn't move forward. There are reasons for that. Often alleged victims decline to come forward -- maybe they are concerned about their safety or the financial security of the children in the relationship.
The criminal justice system works well when it comes to some crimes, but it has been woeful at addressing rape and domestic violence, something the leadership from pro leagues to colleges have been pressured to understand.
Like other leagues, MLB's conduct investigations are part of the cost of doing business. Sponsors don't want a player accused of abuse standing in front of a banner bearing their logos during a postgame news conference, as when Radisson pulled its signage from the Minnesota Vikings' backdrop when Adrian Peterson was being investigated for child abuse.
Baseball worked in concert with its players' association to suspend Reyes and Chapman. That's important. It means that these suspensions won't be appealed or reduced, as we've seen in the NFL. A baseball player may get less time off the field in terms of percentage than a football player subject to a six-game suspension for a first offense, but the baseball player will likely lose more money given how much more he earns per game.
Unlike Chapman, Reyes expressed more contrition in his apology. He emphasized how sorry he was to his family, and he promised to donate $100,000 to domestic violence treatment and prevention.
On the league side, that's progress. Baseball is carefully crafting a staircase of penalties, where the circumstances and facts slot an incident at a higher or lower disciplinary step. They have also instituted a training program for all players aimed at prevention.
Yet, if baseball fans decide that conduct suspensions are the same kind of distraction as a wacky haircut or a stupid tweet, what's really being gained?
Have we reached a point where there is a backlash to the very idea of enforcing standards of conduct? It's hard to gauge from the elation of one bullpen dash, but you can see other signs that it could be happening, including in the way NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- often called God-dell by unhappy fans -- is critiqued for an imperfect appeals process.
For years, fan apathy to player violence -- who cares what they do off the field? -- abetted league inaction when it came to conduct.
Baseball fan and blogger Stacey Gotsulias was in the crowd when Chapman ran out. She described the way the stadium programmed his moment. A boom followed by flames across the digital boards of the upper deck.
"Frankly, it was uncomfortable watching as people went crazy as Chapman made his way from the bullpen to the mound," Gotsulias wrote. "It was probably uncomfortable for a lot of people to watch."
There is a message in a 52-game suspension, but there is also a message in the flames. If you want fans to get the idea that domestic violence is something the league can't tolerate, maybe tone down the celebratory staging on the return.
If you are going to take the issue seriously, it has to be start to finish.