Earlier today, New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was suspended for 30 games for his role in a domestic violence incident. Anybody who has heard the details of the former Cincinnati Reds reliever's recent legal troubles (the details are unsettling, but if you have not read them, Yahoo's Tim Brown and Jeff Passan describe them here) knows that "incident" is too forgiving of a term.
Last November, St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Alex Reyes was suspended for 50 games in the minor leagues due to a second positive test for marijuana.
That the two incidents are not comparable should go without saying. I was initially hesitant to point this out, as it seems like a way to curry favor with those who take the not-so-controversial stance that domestic violence is bad. But in the case of Chapman, the institution whose opinion on the matter can dictate his punishment has decided that it does not warrant as long of a suspension as a minor league player smoking pot.
In a vacuum, I can understand, if not agree with, the Alex Reyes suspension. No matter what your opinion of the legal status of marijuana, it is still against the rules of baseball to use it. And one side effect of a relatively brief suspension for Chapman is that it will not fulfill the potential moral hazard of the Yankees gaining an additional year of pre-free agency team control as an indirect "reward" for the misdeeds of one of their players. But when it comes down to it, the idea that the extent to which MLB takes domestic violence seriously is centered not around basic humanity but rather how it will impact player salaries is disturbing.
Certainly, some will point out that Aroldis Chapman has not yet been charged criminally with anything related to domestic violence, but if Major League Baseball were truly committed to pushing an "innocent until proven guilty" ideology, there would not have been a suspension at all. Innocence until guilt is proven applies to the justice system and not to private enterprises; MLB suspending Chapman is no more a violation of his rights than TV networks and streaming services refusing to work with Bill Cosby in the wake of accusations of his sexual misconduct were a violation of Cosby's.
Maybe it was wrong to expect MLB to be leaders on this issue. But it was easy to chalk up the NFL's lackadaisical attitude towards Ray Rice as an arrogant league so convinced of its importance that it would rank the playing time of one of its minor stars ahead of a societal epidemic. When the NHL not only turned a blind eye to rape allegations made against Patrick Kane, but a horrifyingly high number of media wrote of his high on-ice performance this season as some sort of redemption story, it came across as a league desperate for stars (American stars, at that) trying to bury its head in the sand.
Major League Baseball doesn't need Aroldis Chapman, just like it doesn't need Mike Trout nor Clayton Kershaw. And yet, when presented with the opportunity to take a seemingly safe stance against one of society's oft-ignored ills, Major League Baseball fell well short.
In addition to high-profile cases involving athletes committing sexual violence against women is the story of former NFL player Kwame Harris, who was arrested in 2013 for abusing an ex. And yet far too many of the headlines were not about Harris committing a horrifying act against another human, but rather that the other human was a man. When it came down to it, a cheap tabloid story about a formerly closeted ex-offensive lineman created more of a dent in the public consciousness than the details of what had happened. Perhaps we have simply become numb to it, or perhaps we have come to expect it. But we as humans are capable of being better than this.
Hopefully, the reaction to this suspension will continue. I'm sure it will get repetitive, and I'm sure a lot of what I've said you have heard before, but apparently, it needs to be said louder in order for professional sports to listen.