“Winning cures everything.”
Actually, it doesn’t.
Maybe that statement pertains to certain clubhouse conflicts (see the 1977 Yankees as an example), but it certainly doesn’t pertain to moral code.
The Yankees brought back closer Aroldis Chapman just before the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, providing a solution to their bullpen depth while creating a moral dilemma for many Yankees fans for the second time in less than a year.
For those fans, where do we draw the line when cheering on our teams? Professional athletes are not just gifted talents who entertain us with their incredible abilities, but are also supposed to be role models who we feel fortunate enough to show our kids and say, “that guy plays for our team.”
I was fortunate enough to have that growing up. My father was able to take me to the old Yankee Stadium and show me Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera. He happily bought me their baseball cards and posters because he knew they were solid people for a young boy to emulate. Not just players, people.
Those four Yankees became my own Mount Rushmore of favorite players. The soft-spoken Williams always gave his best. O’Neill was the most fiery guy I ever saw on a baseball field, and you fell in love with that part of him because you knew off the field, he was the exact opposite, a calm and gentle man. Rivera is the most spiritual athlete I have ever heard speak. And Jeter is just Jeter; absolutely unparalleled.
That Yankees’ run of success was the best time for me to be introduced to the game I grew to love because the team was so easy to root for, and not just because they were winning. They were just so easy to love. Every team is going to have its blemishes. Maybe Chuck Knoblauch wasn’t the greatest guy, but as a whole, they were an admirable team.
So when the gates open on the 2017 season, the newly signed Chapman will likely add a few extra tallies on the Yankees’ win column thanks to his unbelievable talent and electric fastball. Still, it won’t cure everything. It can’t cure everything.
If a Yankees fan tells me their adoration of Rivera and the deafening roar of the crowd when “Enter Sandman” began to echo across the Stadium was based on his pure physical ability, I won’t believe them. Baseball has a way of awakening the young and innocent version of us, and that innocent version always wants to see the best in people. Rivera was the alarm clock that awoke that side of us because we knew that we were seeing the best version of somebody, both on the mound and in the community. That is where Chapman falls short, and makes being a Yankee fan in 2017 that much more difficult.
I believe there is a better side to Chapman. I really do. We just haven’t seen it yet. I know, he was never convicted of the domestic violence allegations that originated in his Florida home back in 2015. Still, MLB saw enough evidence to suspend him for 30 games to begin the 2016 season, while the Reds saw it fit to trade him away to the Yanks for an incredible discount. Something very ugly obviously happened. We know Chapman fired off eight shots in his garage at his home where a four month old was trying to sleep. We know that while Chapman was angrily shooting his gun at a wall, and one shot through a window into an open field, his girlfriend and mother to the four month old child was hiding outside in the bushes, contacting authorities to help her from the man she was petrified of at the time.
Yes, charges were dropped, but it is not hard to see that Chapman had raised his hands to a woman who he is supposed to love and protect. She told police he used his fingers to push her into a chair, causing her to fall over. Chapman says he poked her with his fingers and she dropped to the floor and screamed. Chapman’s girlfriend said he put his hands around her throat. Chapman denies this, but did admit to police that he put his hands on her at one point. It’s an ugly sequence to imagine.
I believe in second chances. Heck, I believe in third chances. More than that, I believe in accountability and showing remorse for any wrongdoing you may have caused. Athletes are role models, but above all they are human beings. Why couldn’t Chapman just apologize for what happened, and done his best to make up for his wrongs? It still wouldn’t erase the ugliness of those events, but it would have put him on the right path. Instead, he told the New York Times that he didn’t do anything wrong, or “never put anyone in danger.” He also added that a fight that results in his girlfriend seeking cover in the bushes outside is “just an argument with your partner that everyone has.” No, that’s not just another argument. That’s inflicting fear into somebody you say you care about.
This is a sentiment that people all around the game share. Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article pleading the Giants to pass on Chapman, despite a closer being their greatest need. Cubs fan Caitlin Swieca was featured in The New York Times explaining her dilemma with wanting to just watch a ballgame, but at the same time not wanting to sweep any domestic violence awareness under the rug. I hear you Caitlin.
I wish I could watch Chapman blow opponents away with a 105 mph fastball to win the game for the Yanks and stand up and cheer as loud as I did when watching O’Neill leg out a double with a bad hamstring. I just can’t. It’s a shame that a one-of-a-kind talent can’t be appreciated for his unique ability, but he brought it on himself. Still, he became an incredibly rich man with a secure contract for years to come, and it just doesn’t feel right.
I love baseball, and I love the Yankees. I wouldn’t let somebody like Chapman rob me of that. But knowing that almost every time the Yankees win a game this season, it will be Chapman throwing the final pitch and celebrating on the pitcher’s mound, the highest point on a baseball field, there will be a lingering sense of discomfort. Part of it will feel wrong. I suppose in a way that’s a good thing. It means above having a love for my team, I have a conscience. That’s more valuable to me, because winning certainly does not cure everything for fans that want somebody they feel good about cheering for.