On Friday, the Kansas City Chiefs did something that seemed impossible 48 hours earlier: they cut their star running back, Kareem Hunt. Hunt was on the fringe of superstardom and was a big reason why Kansas City looked primed for their first Super Bowl appearance in nearly 50 years, but after a video leaked of him brutalizing a woman, the Chiefs swiftly released him.
On that same day, the Chicago Cubs took a different route. In September, Melisa Reidy, the ex-wife of their shortstop Addison Russell, wrote about their abusive relationship. Many domestic violence accusations and cases against athletes are usually isolated to one particular instance, but this was a pattern. It was systematic abuse. It appeared the Cubs were going to move on from Russell, but decided at the 11th hour to tender him a contract for 2019. The Cubs want to be a part of his rehabilitation. For those who wanted heads to roll, this was a disappointment, and let ?s be honest: people wanted to see those heads roll.
Nothing sells quite as well in sports as outrage. More and more talking heads are rising up from the ashes of sports journalism, and fortunately for them, there ?s always something to complain about. Nerds are ruining the game with numbers and analytics. A player didn ?t hustle when he should have. JuJu is ?lit. ? Our individual fandoms can be even more trivial than that. My sister ?s new boyfriend is a Patriots fan. I already don ?t like him.
Sports are supposed to be a joy. A three hour distraction from the rest of the world. We don ?t want to be distracted from our distraction because of what someone did off the field. We don ?t want our morality to conflict with our fandom.
That morality isn ?t just for abuse cases. Let ?s take a look at some controversies in Washington sports this year, starting with the football club. The name ?Redskins ? is problematic. They claimed Reuben Foster, who has been arrested three times in 2018 and was let go by the 49ers less than 72 hours earlier because of abuse charges. Doug Williams tried passing those claims and arrests off as ?small potatoes. ? Their running game is anchored by Adrian Peterson, who still hits his children. They desperately need a QB, and while Colin Kaepernick could help, he is being blackballed by the NFL because of how he expresses his political beliefs. His beliefs became the marketing campaign of a corporation that uses sweatshop and child labor.
During the All-Star game Washington hosted this year, a collection of racist and homophobic tweets by pitcher Josh Hader were unearthed. The Capitals employ Tom Wilson, the dirtiest player in the sport. With what we know about CTE, he could be putting defenseless players ? careers and lives at risk. Washington Wizards ? center Dwight Howard was accused last month by Masin Elij — a gay man — of sexual harassment and threats to keep an alleged relationship they had quiet. Having his sexuality questioned has made Howard himself a target of homophobic jokes and comments.
And that ?s just what ?s been happening in the nation ?s capital over the last five or so months.
Back to Hunt and Russell. We don ?t need another piece about how violence against women and children is wrong and how their leagues need to hold them more accountable. Any hobby writer with a laptop and a Messiah complex can pump out a couple hundred words on that in an afternoon. Of course the leagues don ?t take this seriously enough. Russell was given a 40 game suspension by the league for his systematic abuse while a failed PED test leads to an 80 game ban. Russell will be eligible for the postseason, too, while the PED user is forced to sit October out. In Major League Baseball ?s eyes, regularly beating your wife is almost half as bad as failing one drug test.
But simply lengthening the suspension is not a true solution either. Zero-tolerance hasn ?t worked in the criminal justice system. Why would it work in the NFL, MLB or any other league? How does suspending a domestic abuser make the athlete ?s partner safer? Does the league do it to make the victim safer, or is it done to help absolve the guilt of the fans for rooting for that team?
Diana Moskovitz wrote about this in greater detail for Deadspin a few years ago. In it, she listed several cases where the partner of an athlete did not bring up charges or begged authorities not to arrest their boyfriend or husband because it would hurt his career. She also cites a case where a Seminole County woman was arrested after she refused to testify against her abusive husband because the last time she did he lost his job, and she and her toddler could not afford him to miss anymore child support payments.
The Cubs want to be part of Russell ?s solution. Surely some part of that motivation is they want to keep their shortstop. Like Hunt, Russell is a young, talented guy. Inevitably, a team would trade some bad PR for a good, cheap player. A decision like this is easy to ridicule, but what about Russell ?s future girlfriend or wife? Without proper therapy and counseling, this could happen again. We don ?t want morality and sports to conflict with one another. How moral is it to potentially subject someone to a life of abuse because the shortstop made you uncomfortable? If the Cubs organization can help, they should.
It ?s similar to how the Pirates and a major league panel helped Jung-Ho Kang after his third DUI. If they have the means to provide better care than what Kang could get by himself, they should provide it, even if he never plays in the majors again. If he does return to PNC Park, some will cheer and some will boo. You’re not a bad person if you do either or sit in silence.
Sports franchises rely on image more than just about any other business in the country. Imagine being given a rotten Whopper because the Burger King franchise was ?tanking. ? You ?d never go back. In baseball, you ?re given a rotten Whopper somewhere between 50-110 times out of 162. We put up with it because we get far more out of sports than we put in. The only investment you need to make to be a fan is time and some level of passion. But passion brings vulnerability. It ?s easier to demonize the athlete than it is to treat their problem. That doesn ?t mean it ?s right.
When people call for retribution in cases like these, the discussion usually centers around the athlete who committed the act and the league that doles out an underwhelming punishment. The team ?s involvement usually begins and ends with ?will they keep him They should be more involved than that.
If you or someone you know needs help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233 or at this link.