Year Zero of my sports fandom was 1996. The specific date of birth of it was March 5, 1996, when I watched the St. Louis Blues home debut of Wayne Gretzky, who was already generally considered the greatest player in NHL history. I was seven.
Ten days later, the Blues acquired veteran Craig MacTavish. Thirty-six days after that, the St. Louis Rams used their first-round draft pick on Lawrence Phillips. Later, I learned that MacTavish had once served a year in prison for vehicular homicide (and that the team's burgeoning 21 year-old defenseman and its head coach also had drunk driving convictions on their criminal records). I also learned that Phillips had been suspended from the Nebraska football program for domestic assault, in what would become a pattern throughout the rest of his life.
I was rooting for less than perfect people from the very beginning of my experience as a fan. And it hasn't stopped, even as I get older, even as I seemingly have achieved a level of enlightenment as a person that nobody would expect from me when I was in first grade. This is a consequence of rooting for sports teams, for aligning a large part of my identity with the nebulous abstraction represented by a "team".
It is illogical, of course, that any of us care about a team rather than its individual components, as though, say, the St. Louis Cardinals are more than an arbitrary collection of individuals. Fans adopt teams not because they represent an ideology, nor because its players are the ones with whom the fans most identify, but because it is a way to feel that we are part of a community. It was the team sports norm well before any of us were born.
On Monday, the Chicago Cubs traded Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford to the New York Yankees for Aroldis Chapman. And just like that, the Chicago Cubs became unlikable. Like, actually unlikable. The Cubs went from a team that St. Louis Cardinals fans jeered essentially out of muscle memory to a team that employs Aroldis Chapman, a man suspended for the first 30 games of the 2016 season for a horrifying incident of domestic abuse.
But at the end of the day, acquiring Aroldis Chapman does not make the Chicago Cubs evil. Being excited that their favorite baseball team acquired Aroldis Chapman does not make Chicago Cubs fans evil. And none of this makes the St. Louis Cardinals, as their primary rival, in any way arbiters of what is right and what is wrong.
Most of you recognize this, I'm sure. But over the last several years, baseball allegiances have become the newest, weirdest, and silliest form of identity pseudo-politics, so it doesn't hurt to repeat this. And the Cubs acquiring Chapman, who is as (fairly) vilified as any professional athlete, is not confirmation of any existing anti-Cubs biases you may have. It is a completely unrelated event.
And it is best for all parties involved to separate any newfound animosity towards the Cubs because of Aroldis Chapman, which is fair and logical, from animosity derived from arbitrary loyalties, which is objectively ludicrous but ultimately harmless.
One in three women, and one in four men, have been victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes; it is an enormous problem that is far more significant than a petty sports rivalry. There is a danger to domestic violence as trash talk, to putting choking and firing a gun at a girlfriend on the same level we put not having won a World Series since 1908.
When it comes down to it, legions of Cubs fans have been left to feel conflicted since Sunday. I was not expecting to feel sympathy for fans of the team that just acquired the hardest throwing pitcher in baseball history, and yet I do. Even if the move makes sense from an on-field perspective (and I have serious doubts about this), the first Cubs World Series title in 108 years could very easily be closed out by, to put it lightly, a morally dubious man.
And in the end, most Cubs fans will be able to completely separate Aroldis Chapman's personal life from his on-field production. Should they? Perhaps not, though they certainly would not be alone in doing so. Perhaps it is a sickness that we are so numb to horrific stories of abuse.
Because after all, there is nothing intrinsically valuable about being good at baseball. Sports exist solely for our entertainment. We, as a collective species, could decide that we care more about the moral character of our entertainers than we do about whether a baseball pitcher can throw a baseball really fast. And yet we don't.
Just as we don't care that the frontman for the most successful band in history admitted to beating women, or that we only recently started caring that the star of the most popular television show of the 1980s has been accused of sexual misconduct by over 50 different women. There is an argument to be made for forgiveness and atonement of past deeds, but there is also an argument that Aroldis Chapman has made only the most tepid attempts to make amends for what he has done.
Aroldis Chapman's velocity does not save lives; it is there purely because we want it to be there. Sure, the Cubs wanted him there enough to trade for him, but even if you consider this to be unethical, it was inevitable that teams were going to make calls to inquire about him. If it hadn't been Theo Epstein, it would have perhaps been Bobby Evans. Or Mike Rizzo. Or John Mozeliak.
Ultimately, I'm glad it wasn't John Mozeliak, because even setting aside the cost of prospects involved, I can avoid the uncomfortable ethical rigmarole of rooting for Aroldis Chapman. But I would have. And thus, I cannot specifically condemn those rooting for a Cubs team which employs Chapman. I can condemn baseball's meager suspension for him (and I have), but the reality of baseball, and professional sports, is that organizations and fans ultimately focus primarily on raw results, which Aroldis Chapman gets. And thus he gets to stay, right or wrong.
Perhaps we are to blame for that. Not just Cubs fans. Not just Cardinals fans. But all of us.