The heartbreak -- and eternal hope -- of being a survivor of violence who loves baseball
When Aroldis Chapman recorded his first save as a member of the New York Yankees this season, I couldn't have cared less. As the tweets rolled across my feed, I scrolled past them as quickly as possible. I saw his name, and something in my brain just shut off.
My ambivalence was not because I am a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. As someone who loves the sport of baseball, I can appreciate a player's greatness, even if he's wearing pinstripes. No, my refusal to acknowledge this accomplishment was because it was Chapman's first appearance after returning from a 30-day suspension under Major League Baseball's new domestic violence policy. In the lead-up to his return, Chapman, who was alleged to have choked the mother of his child in an October incident, continued to insist that he'd done "nothing wrong."
That ovation makes me feel like what happened to me doesn't really matter.Britni de la Cretaz
I am a survivor of domestic violence. I have sat across from a man who had just brutalized me while he told me that what I knew happened didn't really happen. I have had the man who threw me into a wall scream in my face about how I'm misremembering, that it wasn't as bad as I'm making it out to be, that I'm being too sensitive. Overreacting.
When Chapman steps onto the mound in the ninth inning, I don't see a closing pitcher with a nasty 102 mph fastball. I think of the allegations that led to his suspension, even if they didn't lead to charges. When I see the crowd at Yankee Stadium give a standing ovation to the man who admitted to punching the window of his car and firing his gun into his garage door in that same October incident, I see fans celebrating a player despite that violence. That ovation makes me feel like what happened to me doesn't really matter.
But this is the reality and the heartbreak I face as a woman who watches professional sports. You get used to having to look past those messages. You learn to roll your eyes at comments from team managers about "playing in dresses." You pretend you didn't hear all the sexist backlash aimed at Jessica Mendoza every time she covers a game from ESPN's broadcast booth.
In sports, like in life, you learn that you will not be treated the way you want to be treated. You learn that the players, the game, the outcome are more important than the people who might have been hurt along the way. But there are some things you can't look past, and every time an athlete who has been involved in a domestic violence case steps onto the field, it's a little reminder to me that my pain does not matter as much as his athletic skill.
When relief pitcher Josh Lueke played for the Tampa Bay Rays, I had to turn the game off every time I saw him come running out of the bullpen. As people on Twitter would point out during each appearance he made, Lueke had faced felony charges in a rape and sodomy case as a minor-leaguer and later pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of false imprisonment with violence, for which he spent 42 days in jail. And yet, there he is, playing major league baseball, I'd say to myself.
As someone who has survived rape, I'd think about the men who have violated me, who have suffered no consequences and are living their lives like nothing ever happened, while I will never forget. And so, I would change the channel.
More recently, there have been signs of hope. For every Aroldis Chapman or Josh Lueke, there is a Josh Donaldson or R.A. Dickey. When Donaldson speaks out about his experience with domestic violence as a child and condemns the people who perpetrate such violence, I am reminded that there is good in the game, that there are people fighting for change. When Dickey opens up about the sexual violence he experienced, he validates survivors everywhere.
When MLB suspended Jose Reyes for 52 games last week under its domestic violence policy for alleged assault of his wife in the offseason, even though the criminal charges against him were ultimately dropped, I began to think the tide might be turning.
The new policy and the suspensions issued in its wake are reasons enough to hope that the culture in Major League Baseball might be shifting (though if I'm being honest, I'd like to see even harsher penalties for domestic violence). Reyes' contrition in the face of his suspension is a sign that, perhaps, the message is getting through to players that there will be consequences for off-field behavior, and violence against women is something the sport will not tolerate any longer.
I long for the day when I won't have to put a part of myself aside to enjoy watching the sport I love. I long for the day when a great play won't have to be marred by the history of the person making it and I won't be left to wonder if anyone else remembers that man's past. I remain hopeful that day will come, if not in my lifetime, then in my daughter's.
Here's hoping MLB's domestic violence policy is a sign of positive change to come and the beginning of safety for female sports fans -- and all survivors of violence.
Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer and baseball enthusiast living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.