Did The Cubs And Media Drop The Ethics Ball On Aroldis Chapman?

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 26, 2016 2:06PM

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Aroldis Chapman (Left) with Starlin Castro / Getty Images / Photo: Mike Stobe

A century-plus drought can make people do some really foolish things.

Perhaps that’s the only way to explain the Cubs trading on Monday for Aroldis Chapman—and some media outlets’ less-than-penetrating interrogation thereof. Chapman’s on-field desirability is understandable enough: the closer is literally the fastest throwing pitcher ever. But he’s also a guy who, on Oct. 30, 2015, fired eight gunshots near his girlfriend and allegedly choked her. At the time, he never admitted hurting his girlfriend and only apologized for using a weapon.

Chapman was left so toxic that New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito publicly said she was “offended” by the Yankees acquisition of the hurler in December of last year, calling the move “very disturbing.”

In a statement released today through the Cubs, Chapman finally took his apology a little further, saying “I regret that I did not exercise better judgment and for that I an truly sorry.”

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said on Monday in a statement: “I shared with [Chapman] the high expectations we set for our players and staff both on and off the field. Aroldis indicated he is comfortable with meeting those expectations.”

But the issue isn’t so open and shut, of course; and the move generated heated discussion about domestic violence and proper motives in sports—although, arguably, not enough in some quarters.

Julie DiCaro, of local sports-talk radio station 670 The Score, spent parts of Monday afternoon urging media not to tidy up the Chapman narrative while also responding to ignorant criticism on social media. (She, like many female sportswriters, has plenty of experience with the latter.)

DiCaro invoked the Bears notoriously wrongheaded signing of alleged serial domestic batterer Ray McDonald and also questioned Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein's grasp of matters of abuse.

"I’m really upset with this," DiCaro told Chicagoist. "I’ve loved the Cubs longer than any other team and probably longer than most of the men in my life. It’s really tough to see your team take that stand. I saw Theo’s quotes from [Monday afternoon's] press conference and thought they were extremely wanting. They showed a lack of understanding of how domestic violence works."

"Just because you say you take domestic violence seriously doesn’t make it so," she added.

Epstein told reporters that the Cubs would only sign Chapman after management spoke with him personally and found him to be trustworthy; but DiCaro questioned whether the full vetting process was thorough enough.

"No one know what goes on behind closed doors. Some abusers are the most charming, friendly guys in the world. Plenty of McDonald's teammates and coaches loved him," she said. "It's frustrating to see people in sports confuse that for due diligence, instead of reaching out to someone in domestic violence community—or the victim, if possible."

"This taints what has been up until now a sort of magical season," she added.

Others in the sports media similarly criticized the move's win-at-all-costs myopia. In an article for The Ringer called “The Cubs’ Trade for Aroldis Chapman Should Make You Uncomfortable," Michael Baumann wrote:

"You can enjoy the games, but you can also easily listen to the victims of intimate partner violence when the issue comes up. If sports are supposed to be wholly escapist — and I don’t actually believe that they are — clinging to “stick to sports” excludes certain people, in this case those one in four women and one in seven men, from taking part in that escapism. This issue is as personal for many people as it is complicated and ugly, and honestly it’s more important than sports. So if showing empathy or, failing that, at least learning when to shut up, makes you feel uncomfortable, imagine how they feel."

Lauren Comitor, of standout local blog The Athletic, wondered, “ Is alienating a huge portion of the fanbase, male and female, in the process really worth it?” She added:

"But the reality is that with this decision, however indirectly, the Cubs chose to help perpetuate a sports culture that normalizes domestic violence. Just as Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has pulled the strings on that side, his Cubs counterpart Tom Ricketts ostensibly gave his blessing. I’m interested to hear his thought process, and I’d be even more interested to hear the opinion of his sister, Laura, a board member of the club."

But at the same time, DiCaro found plenty of traditional sports outlets lacking in addressing the domestic violence issue. "It's hard to expect sportswriters to be experts on legal and criminal-justice matters, but I do think its fair to expect them to educate themselves and understand what they don’t know and what they need to understand. In that regard, I’ve been pretty disappointed in what I’ve seen over the last 24 hours." She claimed that several reporters appeared to go easy on Epstein at the press conference. She also called out the Chicago Tribune, who—while also running more critical commentary—published a column titled "Cubs Had No Choice But to Get the Best Closer Available."

As for fans, DiCaro sees no usefulness in compartmentalization. "I don’t want people to separate themselves because I don’t think anything will change until the fans demand change. Only when it affects a team’s bottom line does anything change. So as a fan I don’t feel the need to separate myself."

As with McDonald's Bears and last year's Blackhawks, Chicago sports fans will have to determine how to walk that line—or whether to abandon it altogether—yet again.