Baseball’s culture of giving players with domestic violence allegations a second chance will be tested with Roberto Osuna and fans in the North.
Second chances are extremely rare in the harsh realm of professional sports. When a player fails to perform or live up to their potential they are often gone so fast you quickly forget they ever played for your favourite team. In other words, there are no second chances in professional sports when it comes to performance. But when it comes to domestic violence there can be.
On May 8th, 23-year-old Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was arrested in his Toronto home and charged with assault. Major League Baseball immediately placed Osuna on administrative leave and have since extended his leave in order to continue the information gathering process.
It should be noted that when a player is on administrative leave he continues to receive his regular pay and credit for major-league service time. Once MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred considers the information gathering process finished, they have the right to punish Osuna however they see fit, regardless of how the legal system handles the case.
In this sense MLB is actually very progressive compared to other major sports leagues, but that is mostly due to necessity. In 2015 Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed on a domestic violence policy that allows the league to discipline a player for an alleged domestic violence incident regardless of whether it results in a trial. Since the policy was agreed upon, the MLB has dealt with seven incidents with punishments ranging from zero games for Twins third baseman Miguel Sano this year to 82 games for Braves outfielder Hector Olivera in 2016.
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The length of MLB suspensions have been interesting, but even more surprising is how quickly teams and fans have forgiven these assaulters. Take Aroldis Chapman, for example, the hard-throwing closer who was suspended 30 games in 2016 after allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing gunshots at a garage wall. All charges were dropped against Chapman after his girlfriend declined to cooperate with the case. Perhaps that’s why the Chicago Cubs were not deterred from trading for Chapman later that year, welcoming the closer with open arms and proudly worn jerseys found throughout Wrigley Field.
A similar incident occurred with former Blue Jay Jose Reyes in 2016, who, according to a statement his wife gave at the time, allegedly grabbed Mrs. Reyes by the throat and shoved her into a sliding glass door. Mrs. Reyes received treatment at a hospital but charges against Jose were dropped after Mrs. Reyes decided not to testify. Reyes was suspended for 52 games by MLB, which, according to Jeff Todd, means he’d “ultimately lose quite a bit less time and money than had he been caught with a PED for the first time” and his suspension “barely tops the 50-game bans handed out to minor leaguers for such relatively innocuous actions as testing positive for marijuana use.”
Despite having a progressive domestic violence policy in theory, the MLB and its fans have a history of forgiving players very quickly. After all, in the business of professional sports, if a player represents value to your team it doesn’t matter what he allegedly did to his wife or girlfriend, the thinking goes. The same thinking exists in the NFL, NBA, and NHL to varying degrees.
The NFL is perhaps the most infamous league when it comes to domestic violence. Most notably Ray Rice, who in 2014 was originally suspended for just two games despite being charged with assault, after a video surfaced of Rice dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of a casino elevator. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he “didn’t get it right” regarding the suspension and beefed up the league’s domestic violence policy in reaction. But Goodell still doesn’t strictly adhere to the new policy and pretty much has the right to suspend players however he feels fit, proven by Josh Brown’s one-game suspension in 2016.
The NHL and NBA are not much better. The NHL is the only major professional sports league without any formal policy regarding domestic violence, and the NBA’s policy came into place less than one year ago.
Regarding Osuna, it is hard to pass moral judgment without knowing the details of the case, of which there are very few right now. These incidents are all different and vary in terms of seriousness, but domestic violence is always serious and anyone arrested for that type of assault should be punished. Professional athletes, who are are public figures with a responsibility to their team and fans, are no exception. Therefore, once the details of the case are made public, MLB has the right to punish Osuna regardless of what happens in court and we as fans reserve the right to judge him regardless of what happens in court, too. It will be interesting to see how many games Osuna gets from MLB. What will be even more interesting is to see how fans of the Toronto Blue Jays decide to treat him once he returns, assuming he does in fact remain with the club.
Like I said, second chances are a rarity in professional sports when it comes to performance but not so much when it comes to domestic violence. Will Osuna get a second chance? Ask most Chicago Cubs fans — who won a World Series on the heels of Chapman’s pitching the same year they traded for him and the same year he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend — and they’ll most likely tell you yes, whether it’s in Toronto or elsewhere. Does Osuna deserve a second chance? That’s an entirely different question.
Toronto is supposed to be the progressive, diverse outpost of the North; a place that represents accountability and justice more so than our neighbours to the South. Does that mean we will stop seeing Osuna jerseys fill up the Rogers Centre? It depends on the severity of the case, sure. But it also depends on how much us Canadians really value morality over winning. If we want to make a statement against domestic violence, no second chances and no more Osuna jerseys. If we want to give Osuna a second chance — one we would never give him if he wasn’t a good player — then bring out the youngest closer ever to notch 100 saves.