The New York Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a record five-year, $86 million deal -- one that's put many fans in the all-too-familiar position of discomfort over a star player with a problematic past. While Chapman's domestic violence history calls into question the priorities of the team, it also presents a unique opportunity for the organization, the league and advocacy groups to use this signing to do some good for victims and their families.
First, let's just get this out of the way: There are a ton of purely baseball reasons for skepticism over signing Chapman to the largest contract ever for a relief pitcher. As ESPN's Andrew Marchand put it, the deal is "too long, for too much money, for the wrong guy."
Chapman's prowess on the mound is undeniable, but his immediate payoff won't be a game-changer for a team banking on a youth-oriented strategy that realistically won't make a meaningful World Series run for at least a couple of seasons. Similarly, Keith Law analyzed 12 long-term contracts for relief pitchers and found their track record to be "terrible," while noting that Chapman's reliance on his 100 mph fastball doesn't inspire confidence in the longevity of his arm.
Putting baseball aside, both men noted that Chapman's character issues should raise red flags. Those of us who care deeply about domestic violence and its victims constantly bang the drum when teams enable dangerous behavior by rewarding perpetrators with millions of dollars.
But it's not just about the women on the other end of those police reports; as we've seen with former Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy and former Giants kicker Josh Brown, sometimes violent behavior -- and a complete lack of remorse thereof -- is part of a broader pattern that can lead to issues in the locker room. If fans don't want to be bothered with the moral implications of signing a player whose actions go unchecked, they should at least be concerned with how those actions can affect the team.
That said, Chapman has served his time, sitting through a 30-game MLB-issued suspension at the start of this past season. Potential zero-tolerance policies with heavier penalties, while seemingly well-intentioned, carry real consequences for the victims of domestic abuse, often failing to prioritize their best interests in favor of the optics of tough punishments.
As such, fans are left wondering how to reconcile the tension between caring about victims and caring about their team. As a Yankees fan, I've written about the dilemma of not being able to feel joy for saves earned by a player I would rather not have on my team, despite how much he adds to our win total. Similarly, my colleague Sarah Spain -- a lifelong Cubs fan confronted with the same dilemma when the Yankees traded Chapman to Chicago in July, part of the Cubs' historic World Series run -- has been outspoken about the dread she felt about his joining her team.
All we can do as fans is continue to have these complicated conversations and hope that something good can come out of them, urging our teams to use these troubled players as catalysts for real change. When Chapman joined the Cubs, a fan channeled her mixed emotions and started the viral Twitter account and hashtag #pitchin4DV, pledging to donate $10 to Chicago-based domestic violence advocacy groups for every save Chapman recorded and encouraging other fans to do the same. To date, the effort has raised close to $40,000.
Chapman's signing presents an opportunity to New York-based organizations to implement similar campaigns to make the best of an uncomfortable situation. I've yet to hear of any such efforts from these groups, but there's plenty of time between now and spring training to seize this chance.
"The Yankees and MLB should take the lead on raising awareness for this cause and avoid the familiar pattern of teams and leagues simply ignoring the past transgressions of players." Kavitha A. Davidson
Beyond that, the Yankees and MLB should take the lead on raising awareness for this cause and avoid the familiar pattern of teams and leagues simply ignoring the past transgressions of players, hoping we'll all just forget about it. It's not enough to just dedicate a day or a week or a month to wearing purple in a shallow show of support for domestic violence victims.
In fact, the team and the league already have a relationship with the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, started by the former Yankees manager, who has a very personal connection to this issue, having grown up watching his father abuse his mother for years. Torre serves as MLB's chief baseball officer; he's in prime position to convince other league executives that it's in everyone's best interest to take a strong stance on domestic violence.
It's important to note that any such campaign can't simply stop at raising awareness. There needs to be a real effort to influence behavior and provide outlets for players and spouses experiencing abuse.
"It is now time for domestic violence providers to begin to work with fans on what the next steps will be," said Margaret Duval, the executive director of the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, one of the Chicago-based organizations that received donations from the #pitchin4DV effort. "Agencies across the country ... are strapped for resources. Now is the time to start thinking of, what are the other ways we can engage with teams to make sure that we're handling these cases appropriately?"
Duval also encourages teams to engage with local groups. Advocates are still learning exactly what those steps should be, but the key will be all parties working together to form real solutions. As a start, Duval said she likes educational programs similar to the ones implemented by the NBA and NFL in their respective rookie camps "to make sure that they learn more about consent, that they have a better understanding of intimate partner violence and what that looks like."
And while most advocates favor pre-emptive measures over punitive ones, it's important for the league to enact policies that properly deal with players and their families once abuse has occurred, "that they have an actual resource for the survivor and that it's not the team's management that is trying to interface with law enforcement, and that the survivor has the resources that she needs," Duval said.
MLB has worked with advocacy groups in shaping its new domestic violence policy, which is considered stronger than that of other leagues. The Chapman signing provides even more space, with a high-profile player, on the league's most storied team, in the country's largest media market, to truly effect change. A little more than two months ago, the Yankees participated in the #NotAFan campaign against domestic abuse, urging fans to wear purple and producing a PSA in which current manager Joe Girardi declared, "I'm a baseball fan, I'm a Yankee fan. I'm not a fan of domestic violence."
As a baseball fan, and a Yankees fan, I hope my team can put its money where its mouth is and not just in Chapman's pocket.