Yesterday was a sad day for baseball. A pitcher, Tommy Hanson, died last night. He was only 29 years old. And it was reported that one my all-time favorite player, Jose Reyes, was arrested for domestic abuse on Halloween night (mugshot above).
This is tragic news for his wife, who I hope is alright, and it is very disappointing to see him
First- he should be punished. MLB unveiled a new domestic violence policy this past August and has an obligation to prove that they were serious about dealing with the issue. The undercurrent of behavioral problems, from DUIs to domestic abuse, has long been ignored by MLB, and although baseball players seem to be on the whole better behaved people than other sports (football football football), there is some evidence that their policies are more lax which is inexcusable.
Second- Baseball can no longer have the ridiculous double standard of punitively destroying the careers of steroid users past and present, while completely ignoring incidents that involve actual harm and injury to others, be it players’ spouses, significant others, strangers in bars, et al. Baseball’s drug policies are absurd. Last week, pitcher Alex Reyes was banned 50 games for using marijuana.
Throwing your wife into a hotel door ought to at least earn you that much time away without pay, if not more. On Tuesday the baseball commissioner said that MLB could take disciplinary action against Reyes even without a formal conviction, which is appropriate, since Reyes is almost certainly guilty, but a settlement is possible and so is the likelihood of a medium-profile athlete getting off easily.
Third- This feels like a betrayal. Jose Reyes was for a time the most exciting player in baseball; he was the most animated and dynamic player I ever saw live and his attitude and enthusiasm were all extreme positives during his career with the Mets. He’s tailed off somewhat, but I always felt the Mets ownership was extremely unfair to him, labeling him an injury prone showboater and making only a cursory effort (if that) to keep him in New York.
Now, you almost have to wonder if they knew something the public didn’t (ALMOST- that would be giving way too much credit to an ownership group that’s spent the last decade penny pinching and grabbing loans from MLB post Ponzi-scheme).
I’ve been critical of people who have made excuses for other players who’ve abused women just because they play for ‘their’ team or are too valuable to the sport; I’ve heard people say of certain football players like Michael Vick who disgust me that “they served their punishment” and so should be allowed to play. So I think it’s important to stay consistent and advocate for Reyes to be punished in an appropriate manner, even if what he did may not be indicative of chronic or pathological personality.
I hope its not a contradiction to say that I still will think fondly on his time with the Mets and I hope that this incident can help him become a better person, even though this tiny biased glimpse into his private personal life will probably be the last (hopefully) we hear about Reyes family matters. America’s conflicted and contradictory response to athlete’s behavior is due to the strange relationship between players, fans and the media. They are treated as role models but the problem is that professional athletes are born, not made, and often pampered since childhood, so even their “hard work” is not really applicable in most ways to the lives of regular people. But the media and fans often don’t seem to know what to do when it turns out a great athlete is a true monster of a human being. Often people have no trouble throwing an athlete under the bus when they’re marginal or past their prime, but when success in sports butts heads with ugly behavior people seem unwilling to place their values ahead of their loyalties (loyalties to players or teams who they have only a fantastical relationship to).
The truth is we know very little about the “real” people behind the ‘brand’ that these athletes represent, but that’s a given. What is really problematic is that instead of prioritizing that our heroes be actually good people, or just accept that they are primarily entertainers whose skill we admire from a distance, what happens is that we demand only the ‘pretense’ of virtue and when a player’s reality clashes with their successful brand, we try to ignore it because it doesn’t fit the narrative. This isn’t just a problem in sports. We see it in politics, in the arts, even in our daily interactions with other people.
I don’t want to have to hate Jose Reyes, and I don’t want to let him off the hook.