Fans need to see real change, not just acknowledgement, from players with troubled pasts
I've waited my whole life for a Chicago Cubs World Series win. (Let's be honest, with the exception of a few Guinness World Record holders, who hasn't?) I've dreamed about what it would be like to see them win it all. On Monday, the team made a move that brings a championship that much closer to the north side of Chicago, sending four players, including top prospect Gleyber Torres, to the Yankees in exchange for closer Aroldis Chapman.
Chapman is a superstar who fills an immediate need for the first-place Cubs, who are ranked 14th in baseball in bullpen ERA (3.83) and 22nd in save percentage (65.5 percent) this season. He could very well be the final piece needed to end the longest championship drought in major pro sports history. You can understand why so many Cubs fans rejoiced at the news.
But not all of Chicago was celebrating. Many, like me, dreaded the deal going through. Yes, Chapman is the man with the 105 mph fastball. He's also the man who missed the first 30 games of the season after being suspended under MLB's domestic violence policy. He's the man who denied choking his girlfriend in October, but did admit to shooting eight bullets into his garage while the mother of his child hid in the bushes, terrified.
No charges were filed against Chapman -- the Davie (Florida) Police Department cited conflicting stories and a lack of cooperation from witnesses -- but MLB investigated, too, and commissioner Rob Manfred found Chapman's behavior "to be inappropriate under the negotiated policy, particularly his use of a firearm and the impact of that behavior on his partner."
After serving his suspension, Chapman described the night with the gun and the 911 call and the alleged choking as nothing serious. "I didn't do anything," he said. "People are thinking that it's something serious; I have not put my hands on anyone, didn't put anyone in danger. Since I didn't do anything like that, I'm not thinking about it. If I didn't do anything, why should I think about it? That is in the past."
An alleged assault, a terrified loved one and a confirmed eight bullets shot in a garage, one of which flew through a window into an open field. Not serious? Not dangerous? It's a troubling denial of culpability.
Now, just nine months after the incident in question, and two months after Chapman's flippant remarks, a new fan base is being asked to embrace him, to give him a second chance.
Some fans may never be comfortable with an athlete accused or convicted of abuse being afforded the privilege of representing a team and a city in professional sports, but many would accept giving an athlete a second chance if they felt certain that something had been learned and changes had been made. Not all athletes are going to be "good guys," but people shouldn't have to feel guilty about their fandom as an accepted cost of doing business.
I've written before about why many domestic violence experts believe "one and done" isn't the best policy, and I agree. Players like Chapman should not be banned from the league forever, but discipline is necessary, and it must not be for the sake of PR. It must be meted out with the end goal of changing behavior.
So troubled Cubs fans are left hoping Epstein is right, hoping that Chapman arrives a changed man and thrives in the Chicago clubhouse.Sarah Spain
Those experts say the most important factor in avoiding recidivism is the offender's willingness to acknowledge guilt and take accountability for his or her actions. Baseball is on the right track, putting in place a domestic violence policy that includes education and prevention programs. The next step would be to ensure that these elements of the policy are made clear to fans, so they're able to see that real efforts are being made to stop the cycle of violence.
For now, Chicago fans will get no real assurance that Chapman has learned or changed, other than a brief statement released on Monday. After acknowledging October's incident in a statement saying, "I regret that I did not exercise better judgment and for that I am truly sorry," Chapman declared, "Out of respect for my family, I will not comment any further on this matter." Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said, "My family, this team and Major League Baseball take the issue of domestic violence very seriously."
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein went one step further in acknowledging what comes next for Chapman. "[Acquiring Chapman] doesn't mean we're turning our back on the importance of character at all," Epstein told the media on Monday. "I think because we've emphasized character and building this core that we have, we have a tremendously strong clubhouse culture. We have great character down there. We think that it will help Aroldis as he moves forward."
So troubled Cubs fans are left hoping Epstein is right, hoping that Chapman arrives a changed man and thrives in the Chicago clubhouse. We'll get no further comment on the matter from Chapman, himself. Just blazing fastballs. Fastballs that will assuredly help the team I love. Fastballs that could be the difference come October.
Whenever I picture what it will be like when the Cubs win it all, I see a mass of humans of all shapes and sizes and ages hugging in the Wrigley Field bleachers and grandstands. I see fans crying over Ronnie and Ernie, grandpas and grandmas and everyone else who didn't make it quite long enough. I see bleacher bums and ball hawks refusing to leave the park or the bar or the street until the last song has been sung, the last champagne bottle popped, the last memory made.
When the Chapman deal was finalized, my daydreaming got an edit. Now, I have to picture Chapman pitching the final out of the World Series. The guys I've come to love -- Rizzo, Bryant, Fowler, Ross, Arrieta piling on Chapman on the mound. Chapman on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Chapman, the lasting image of the victory. Chapman, the hero.
It's not the picture I always dreamed of.