Updated on 30 March 2017 — jump to update
In the early hours of Halloween last year, authorities dispatched local police to an apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey. A woman had called emergency services to report a “dispute” with her significant other. Such an event happens all too often in American culture these days, so much so that, when it does occur, media outlets frequently do not consider it newsworthy unless it involves somebody in the public eye. In this case, the altercation concerned a well-known sports figure, a relief pitcher for Major League Baseball’s New York Mets: their All-Star closer, Jeurys Familia.
According to reporters Andrew Wyrich and Abbott Koloff in the Bergen Record,
“Borough police said in the complaint that Familia caused ‘bodily injury to another’ and that they observed a scratch on the chest and a bruise on the right cheek of the victim, whose name was redacted in the court papers filed in Fort Lee Municipal Court.”
Details later emerged identifying the complainant as Mr. Familia’s wife, Bianca Rivas. According to reports, the couple reside together in Fort Lee with their one-year-old son.
Ironically, just two and a half weeks earlier, Mr. Familia had begun appearing in a public-service announcement sponsored by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In the PSA, the pitcher speaks in his native Spanish the line the NCADV is employing in its current campaign, which features prominent individuals from the world of professional sports: “No soy fanático de la violencia doméstica,” which translates as, “I am not a fan of domestic violence.” For social media, there is an associated hashtag: #NotAFan. A day after the arrest, the NCADV understandably dropped Mr. Familia from the campaign.
Not long after the incident, Mr. Familia spoke with Z Deportes reporter Héctor Gómez, who quoted the reliever as saying, “Thanks [sic] god, I’m fine and with my whole family,” and “Somebody is trying to damage my reputation with this info. I’m at peace with my family.” Could Mr. Familia’s claim be true? Could he have been willfully accused of a crime he didn’t commit? I suppose it’s possible, but it seems to me that the emergency call and the ensuing arrest report make that unlikely. Of course, if Mr. Familia did raise his hand to his wife and still pleaded innocent to the crime, it would hardly be the first time a perpetrator of domestic violence refused to admit their guilt.
As a staunch New York Mets fan, as a man, and as a human being, I greeted the news of Jeurys Familia’s arrest with disappointment and disgust. A single episode of domestic violence is one too many, but in recent years, our society has been bombarded with reports of such incidents—not just among average citizens, but involving public, often popular figures, many of them professional athletes. According to an article in Sports Illustrated, in the calendar years 2013 and 2014, police arrested at least fifteen players from the National Football League on charges of committing violence against women. In August 2014, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a forthcoming new policy intended to allow the league to better combat such problems. That new policy followed in the wake of the arrest in February 2014 of Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens caught by surveillance cameras at an Atlantic City casino dragging his unconscious fiancée, Janay Palmer, out of an elevator. Mr. Rice would eventually be indicted for aggravated assault, a felony, but as a first-time offender, he agreed to undergo court-supervised counseling in exchange for having the charges against him dropped. In July 2014, the NFL suspended him two games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy—a penalty many people thought far too light given the grievous nature of his...well, personal conduct. A month later, Commissioner Goodell admitted the inadequacy of the discipline in a letter he sent out to team owners, telling them that he would increase the NFL’s penalties for players who commit domestic violence.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s address the issues using the case of Ray Rice. We’ll circle back to Major League Baseball and Jeurys Familia later.
It’s not unreasonable to ask whether Mr. Rice should have been disciplined at all by his employer for a crime that had already been handled by the judicial system. Does that not equate, in some sense, to double jeopardy—to an individual being effectively punished a second time for a single crime after the valid conclusion of court proceedings? Beyond the simple fact that the appropriate clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution applies specifically to governmental trials, there are real-world implications here. The National Football League exists as an entertainment entity, reliant for its existence on the patronage and viewership of the general public. If the NFL did not impose any penalties on Mr. Rice, but allowed him to continue to play and to earn millions of dollars after his bad behavior, would the league risk alienating and even losing a portion of its audience?
But there’s more to the issue than just potential monetary losses for the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL. Whether they like it or not, professional athletes function as de facto role models. If Ray Rice can commit an act of domestic violence without paying a significant penalty for having done so, that diminishes the seriousness of his offense. More than that, it normalizes his behavior, suggesting—especially to the impressionable, such as children—that the commission of such an act is not only commonplace, but acceptable.
Additionally, given the public nature of Mr. Rice’s job, if his employers had ignored his off-the-field behavior, it would have implied that they condoned it. What sort of a message would that have sent, in particular, to the NFL’s female fans? It seems to me that both the league and the Baltimore Ravens had ample justification—both from a business standpoint and, far more important, on the basis of social responsibility—for taking a hard line against Ray Rice.
Ultimately, both did. On 8 September 2014, more footage of Mr. Rice’s altercation with Ms. Palmer became public—footage that showed the running back twice punching his fiancée in the face, the second time sending her headlong into an elevator railing and knocking her unconscious. That day, the Ravens terminated the team’s contract with Mr. Rice, and shortly after that, the league suspended him indefinitely. Mr. Rice appealed the second suspension, with the NFL Players Association representing him; the union made it clear that it did not condone domestic violence, but that it believed it improper for one of its members to receive a second punishment for the same infraction. On that basis, Mr. Rice won his appeal. He also filed a formal grievance against the league for wrongful termination, arguing that his firing by the Baltimore Ravens had occurred after the NFL had already disciplined him with the two-game suspension. Mr. Rice demanded $3.529 million, and in January 2016, the team settled with its former player, paying him an undisclosed sum, estimated by observers to be close to the amount he sought. He has yet to play another game in the NFL, despite pledging to donate his entire salary to organizations combatting domestic violence if any team signed him.
So does that mean there is no room for forgiveness? If somebody commits a heinous crime, should there be no possibility of rehabilitation? Studies have shown that recidivism rates for perpetrators of domestic violence can be dramatically lowered both by a conviction for the crime and by various follow-up counseling programs for abusers. To me, that means that we, as a society, have a responsibility to at least attempt to educate and reform.
Which brings me back to my belovèd New York Mets, though not quite to Jeurys Familia. In June 2003, at the tender age of nineteen, a shortstop named José Reyes made his Major League debut for my team. In a loss to the Texas Rangers, he racked up two hits in four at-bats and scored a pair of runs. That auspicious premiere marked the beginning of a storied career for the speedy Mr. Reyes, who would evolve into a player a consensus of baseball observers described for a time as the most exciting player in the game. A four-time All-Star, he would lead the league in stolen bases three times and in triples four times. He would win a National League Silver Slugger Award for being the best hitter in the league at his position. He would play for New York through the 2011 season, a final campaign in which he became the first Met ever to win the league batting championship, hitting an impressive .337 for a team that lost eight more games than it won and finished fourth in a five-team division.
A couple of months after the end of that season, José Reyes—a free agent once his contract with the Mets expired—signed a six-year, $106-million deal with the Miami Marlins. As somebody who had wholeheartedly rooted for the shortstop for so many years, and who had thoroughly enjoyed his frequently thrilling performances, I was disappointed to see Mr. Reyes go to another team. Despite his no longer being a Mets player, I followed his career—first with Miami for a single year, and then, after a shocking trade, with the Toronto Blue Jays for three and a half seasons. Four months into the 2015 campaign, the contending Blue Jays—who would win their division that year and make it all the way to the League Championship Series—traded Mr. Reyes to the Colorado Rockies, a last-place team that would lose fifty-eight percent of its games.
Since his departure from the Mets, Mr. Reyes had never performed quite as well as he had with New York. Part of that came as the result of injuries, but some of it likely had to do with the natural erosion of physical skills as an athlete ages. Still, even with his diminished performance, I continued to follow his career from afar—and it pained me to see him with Colorado. His trade to a last-place team appeared to take the life out of Mr. Reyes’s play on the field. After arriving in Denver for his final forty-seven games of the 2015 season, he batted only .259. From my vantage, he didn’t look happy.
And then things got worse. On Halloween night in 2015, José Reyes was arrested for “abuse of a family and/or household member.” An argument with his wife, Katherine, had apparently turned physical, and she reported to police that her husband had grabbed her by the throat and shoved her into a sliding glass door. Katherine Reyes suffered injuries to her side, neck, and wrist. She was treated at the scene and then taken to a local hospital’s emergency room.
Just two months earlier, Major League Baseball had implemented its Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy, a landmark set of rules regarding the disciplining and rehabilitation of players who commit such acts. The new policy had been negotiated and agreed to by both the league and the MLB Players Association, the powerful union representing baseball players. Commissioner Rob Manfred announced,
“Major League Baseball and its Clubs are proud to adopt a comprehensive policy that reflects the gravity and the sensitivities of these significant societal issues. We believe that these efforts will foster not only an approach of education and prevention but also a united stance against these matters throughout our sport and our communities.”
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark added,
“Players are husbands, fathers, sons and boyfriends. And as such want to set an example that makes clear that there is no place for domestic abuse in our society. We are hopeful that this new comprehensive, collectively bargained policy will deter future violence, promote victim safety, and serve as a step toward a better understanding of the causes and consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.”
In the days after José Reyes’s arrest, Commissioner Manfred said publicly,
“We felt good about the policy when we negotiated it. I think this is the first test. And I think it will stand the test.”
He also underscored that, with respect to domestic violence, Major League Baseball would not focus exclusively on discipline, but would promote “evaluations, counseling and a variety of other activities.” He also said,
“There’s a balance there. On the one hand, I think our fans want to know that the case has been dealt with appropriately. On the other hand, whoever the player is, the fact that’s a Major League player doesn’t mean that he has absolutely no right to privacy and that everything that’s going on in the relationship or marriage has to be public.”
While MLB investigated the Reyes incident, and while the shortstop awaited the conclusion of his corresponding legal travails—he faced a trial scheduled for 4 April 2016—another occurrence of domestic violence by a player became public. In December 2015, it was reported that the closer for the Cincinnati Reds, Aroldis Chapman, had choked his girlfriend and then fired a handgun in anger. The incident had occurred on 30 October of that year, with more than a dozen police officers sent to Mr. Chapman’s home. The police interviewed witnesses, including Mr. Chapman, who admitted to discharging eight shots; seven of those bullets went into a concrete wall inside his garage, while the eighth went through a window into an open field. The report states that no arrests were made “due to conflicting stories and a lack of cooperation from all parties involved.”
The two cases moved forward through the baseball world at the same time. Irrespective of the lack of further legal action against Aroldis Chapman, Major League Baseball took up its own investigation. In February, pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings against José Reyes, MLB placed the Rockies shortstop on paid administrative leave. Little more than a week later, Commissioner Manfred announced that the league had suspended Mr. Chapman, without pay, for the first thirty games of the 2016 season. In March, because Katherine Reyes refused to cooperate with authorities, prosecutors had no choice but to dismiss the criminal charges against her husband. As in the case of Aroldis Chapman, Major League Baseball continued its own investigation, and in the end, suspended Mr. Reyes, without pay, for all of April and May, amounting to fifty-one games. Neither player appealed their suspension, and both publicly apologized for their behavior. In June, the Colorado Rockies released José Reyes. The team would still have to pay him the $34 million it owed him—all Major League contracts are guaranteed—but they would no longer employ him.
Enter the New York Mets. Needing a backup utility infielder because of the surfeit of injuries the team had endured in the 2016 season, their front office sensed an opportunity. They could extend a contract to José Reyes and be required only to pay him a prorated portion of the Major League minimum salary—$507,500 per year; the Rockies would be required to pay the remainder of the money they owed him, less that amount. Within Mets management, opinions varied on whether or not Mr. Reyes could provide any real value on the field, and on whether or not the team would suffer a public-relations disaster by signing a man accused of domestic violence, an act for which he had then been suspended for nearly a third of a season.
What did I think? I’ve been a New York Mets fan since the age of eight. My spirits have risen and fallen—mostly fallen—with the team through years of following them. My wife says that I don’t have blood running through my veins, but little baseballs. And in my time rooting for the Mets, José Reyes became one of my all-time favorite players. As an observer of professional baseball, and a follower of Mr. Reyes, I wondered if he would have anything left in the tank, if he would be able to contribute anything at all to my team. From a baseball standpoint, the possibility represented a low-risk, high-reward scenario for the Mets, and the truth was that I wanted to cheer on José Reyes again. Except—
Except that Mr. Reyes evidently committed an act of domestic violence. He physically assaulted and injured his wife, likely terrorizing her in the process. Was this a man for whom I wanted to cheer? I have never struck a woman in my life; I’ve never considered doing so, nor even felt impelled to such an act. I have been married for twenty years, and I’ve never once physically threatened my wife, let alone hit her (for reasons other than because Karen could probably take me). I simply believe it’s wrong.
(Full disclosure: I’ve only ever taken a swing at another human being once in my life. As a preteen, after being punched, I leveled a roundhouse punch at my tormentor. I missed wildly. I’m a lover, not a fighter.)
So I was conflicted about whether or not I wanted the Mets to make José Reyes a part of their team again. Katherine Reyes had apparently forgiven her husband; shouldn’t I? At the same time, did I want my sports fandom to outweigh my sense of morality? I was put in mind of an incident that had occurred back in July 2003, when Kobe Bryant, a shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association, had been arrested for allegedly raping a woman at the resort hotel in Colorado where she worked. One of the things that struck me back then was how many Lakers fans refused to believe the allegation. It seemed clear that many of those people sided with Mr. Bryant not because of any substantive evidence exonerating him, but because they wanted him to be innocent of the crime. They did not care about facts, but about what satisfied them emotionally. They rooted for the Los Angeles Lakers, and because a criminal conviction of Mr. Bryant for rape could weaken the team by removing one of its best players from the roster, many fans chose to believe that the crime had not happened—even to the point of either blaming the victim or questioning her motives.
Later, in a settlement that dismissed the criminal sexual-assault charges brought against Mr. Bryant by his alleged victim—a settlement involving no monetary payment—he issued a public statement in which he essentially admitted to committing the rape, albeit unwittingly:
“First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colo.
“I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
“I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains. I understand that the civil case against me will go forward. That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.”
To me, Mr. Bryant’s statement emphasized the fact that numerous Lakers fans had essentially looked the other way when one of the team’s best players was accused of a crime. With regard to José Reyes, I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want my fandom for the New York Mets—and previously, for Mr. Reyes himself—to point my moral compass in the wrong direction. I therefore hoped that the Mets would not offer their erstwhile shortstop a new contract.
Ten days after being released by the Colorado Rockies, though, the New York Mets did indeed sign Mr. Reyes. That left me asking questions of myself. What should I do? Should I stop cheering for the Mets because they willingly employed a man who had physically assaulted and injured his wife? Should I follow the team but root against José Reyes?
I listened carefully to what the Mets front office had to say. New York’s general manager, Sandy Alderson, held a conference call with reporters, telling them that, prior to offering a contract, he had wanted to gauge Mr. Reyes’s contrition with respect to the domestic-violence incident. Anderson said:
“I came away feeling that he had taken responsibility for this mistake on his part, that he was remorseful. He obviously has paid a penalty for this, both financially and in terms of his career.”
He also said:
“José was a member of the Mets organization for twelve years. He was a solid citizen during all that time. If you think of it in those terms, as not just an organization, but as a place where José grew up, almost as a surrogate family, we felt he deserved a second chance and that that second chance was most appropriate with us, the place where he spent a lot of his formative years.”
Alderson also indicated that he knew that not everybody would agree with his reasoning.
“I think we fully understand that there will be differences of opinion about this, that some people will feel strongly and differently. I think we accept that. We respect that. And all I can say is that both José and the organization will be held to a standard going forward that recognizes the seriousness of domestic abuse and a commitment to stand against it.
“We have done everything we can to consider the other issues and make ourselves comfortable that José understands the mistake he made, has taken responsibility for it, but at the same time, doesn’t deserve to be ostracized.”
I liked the statements. I feel that people should be held to account for their actions, but I also believe in the transformative power of forgiveness. I hoped that Mr. Alderson meant what he said, and that his words had not been uttered merely as public-relations cover for signing Mr. Reyes.
For his part, José Reyes also said the right things. In a prepared statement after signing his new contract with the Mets, he delivered these words:
“As I have expressed in the past, I deeply regret the incident that occurred and remain remorseful and apologetic to my family. I have completed the counseling required by MLB, have been in ongoing therapy, and will continue with counseling going forward. I appreciate the Mets organization for believing in me and providing the opportunity to come back home to New York.”
As a part of the discipline meted out to him by Major League Baseball, Mr. Reyes also donated $100,000 to a charity working against domestic violence. After he played his first game back with the Mets, he told the press:
“I’m sorry for what happened. Every human being makes a mistake. People deserve a second chance in life. Like I said, I’m sorry, I apologized to a lot of people. Everybody who follows me, my wife, my mom, my dad back in the Dominican, to all my family. All the fans who follow me, even the people who don’t follow me. I know there are going to be some people who are going to hate me, so I understand that.”
All of that sounded good to me—both the words of the Mets general manager and those of their newest player—but I still wanted to know why Major League Baseball had placed me in a position to choose between rooting for my team and thereby supporting a man who had assaulted his wife, or abandoning my long-lived fandom. Shouldn’t there be a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to things like domestic violence? As I thought about the issue, I gravitated more and more to that interpretation of events, that MLB had failed to discharge its responsibilities in an appropriate fashion, that they should have banned Mr. Reyes from the game for life. For me, that meant that I would no longer be able to watch baseball, which included the Mets. I would have to cancel my paid subscription to Major League Baseball games on satellite television; as a customer of MLB, one of the most impactful things I could do would be to speak with my wallet. All of this saddened me because I love watching baseball and the Mets, but I wanted to take a principled stand.
And then I read the words of Erin Matson, the co-founder and co-director of Reproaction, a reproductive-rights organization. Herself a survivor of domestic violence while in a bad marriage, she has had much to say on the subject. With respect to the return of José Reyes to a Major League playing field, she told USA Today:
“It’s really concerning. There’s a part of me that just feels incredibly sad that at the end of the day baseball is a business. And I get attached to players that come and go, but it’s business decisions that come and go who is on the roster. Period. So let’s talk about the fact that in twenty-sixteen there’s still highly paid people making a business decision that someone with this public track record on domestic violence is considered a profitable asset. It’s stunning to think about that. That’s just where we are.”
But when Ms. Matson was asked whether José Reyes should be banned for life from baseball, she took a decidedly practical approach. She said:
“While it seems really good to say, ‘Oh, you should be banned from the sport entirely’—and there’s a part of me that’s right there—but from a victim advocacy standpoint what makes me very uncomfortable about that is that actually places an incredible burden on people who may be abused. It might actually put them more at risk because if your abuser is caught, whether or not it’s your fault, there’s something much bigger at risk. You hear about this at victim advocacy community—if their abuser loses their job, not only are they at more risk because the abuser is at home more, but also that anger may come out at them.
“I just want to throw that out there that it feels really satisfying to say that people should be barred and on a certain level I believe that, and yet, on that, I’m afraid of constructing black or white policies that might in fact place victims in more danger.”
Regarding the return of Mr. Reyes to the Mets, Cindy Southworth, the executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence told USA Today that “[t]he general public struggles with nuance.” She further said:
“Either you’re a great guy or you’re a villain. And it’s hard for them [the general public] to understand that a really talented athlete can be choosing to terrorize his partner at home. You can like an athlete and you can be a fan of their skills on the playing field and still be incredibly upset about the choices that they’re making with their partner and you can voice those.”
About Major League Baseball or any other sport disciplining its players for domestic violence, she said:
“Counterintuitively, we don’t want sports leagues to have a zero-tolerance policy. And the reason for that is if we would say that the first time your partner calls nine-one-one your career is over, her risk of homicide shoots through the roof. Because he has nothing to lose and everything to lose at the same time. We’ve actually been advising the sports league to take a very swift, very robust approach but not to say that first-time and you’re out of it, your career is over because the pressure then on the victim not to call for help is massive. And we want them to be able to call nine-one-one. We need them to reach out for help.”
Sensible words, I thought. And while it realistically addressed the needs of victims of domestic violence, it had a secondary benefit. By avoiding an all-or-nothing approach to dealing with abusers, it left room for counseling and education, for rehabilitation and reconciliation.
And so, at last, we come to Jeurys Familia. When I read in The New York Times that the Mets closer—who had in the recently concluded season set an all-time team record for saves—had been taken into custody by police for domestic violence, I thought (and I might even have audibilized), “Oh, no.” I knew that the arrest alone, even without a subsequent conviction, would almost certainly lead to a suspension of the relief pitcher by Major League Baseball. For all of MLB’s shortcomings—such as its early failures to combat the pervasive use in the sport of performance-enhancing drugs—it has so far done a creditable job in its efforts to appropriately discipline, educate, and counsel those of its players who commit acts of domestic violence, as well as to raise awareness of the problem in our society. In the three cases that preceded Mr. Familia’s—those of José Reyes, Aroldis Chapman, and Atlanta Braves outfielder Héctor Olivera—only Mr. Olivera was found guilty in a court of law. He was sentenced to serve ten days in prison, but he has appealed his conviction. Nevertheless, after Major League Baseball conducted its own investigation, Commissioner Manfred suspended Mr. Olivera for eighty-two games without pay—more than half of an MLB season. As previously mentioned, Mr. Reyes and Mr. Chapman, despite the domestic-assault charges against them being dropped, both served lengthy unpaid suspensions from baseball. I therefore reasoned that, regardless of the outcome of Mr. Familia’s arrest—short of contradictory evidence demonstrating his innocence—he would probably be suspended for at least thirty games, perhaps fifty, and depending on what Major League Baseball discovered when it looked into the matter, maybe even more than that.
In the moments after I learned about the arrest of Jeurys Familia, I hoped that he had not actually assaulted his wife. I didn’t want it to be true—for the sake of my team and in service to the enjoyment I get out of watching them play. Mr. Familia has been a key contributor to the Mets, and I did not want the team to lose him for a significant portion of the upcoming season.
Pretty petty, right, thinking about the issue in terms of my fandom, rather than with respect to the real-world consequences for Bianca Rivas and her son? I wrote earlier that, upon learning about the situation, I viewed it from various perspectives—including that of being a man and that of being a human being—but in those first few moments, I looked at it from the outlook of being a Mets fan. It gets worse. In the wake of hoping that the allegations of domestic violence came to nothing, I actually entertained the notion, however briefly, that perhaps Mr. Familia hadn’t assaulted his wife. I considered the idea because I know Jeurys, and he’s not that kind of person.
Except...I don’t know Jeurys Familia. He plays on the team for which I root, and he plays at an elite level. He helps the Mets win, and that makes me happy. I’ve seen Mr. Familia interviewed; he always seems likable, and he always says the right things. He appears to be a good teammate. But none of that bears at all on whether or not Jeurys Familia assaulted his wife.
I quickly recognized my self-interested take on the matter, and so I disabused myself of that point of view. I redirected my sympathies to where they should have been in the first place: with Bianca Rivas and her one-year-old son. Authorities dismissed the legal case against Mr. Familia in December, citing insufficient evidence to proceed. The judge in the case also agreed to expunge the arrest from Mr. Familia’s record.
Perhaps—just perhaps—Jeurys Familia did not assault his wife. I hope that’s true—not because I’m concerned about the Mets being weakened, but because of how such an event, such a trauma, would have impacted, and could continue to impact, Ms. Rivas. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball continues its own investigation into the incident. If it turns out that Mr. Familia did commit an act of domestic violence, I want him suspended. This is more important than my favorite team winning and losing. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about right and wrong. And I’m pleased that the caretakers of the sport I love are taking the issue seriously.
Recently, a year after José Reyes learned of his fifty-one game suspension, he spoke with Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News about what he had done to his wife, to whom he is still married. He said,
“What happened was unacceptable, I knew it and I knew I had to do something to make it right. It wasn’t a good thing to go through, no. But you can go through it and become a better husband and father and man. That’s what I have tried to do.”
I genuinely hope that’s true—for Katherine Reyes, and for José Reyes. As I said, I believe that forgiveness can be a powerful force for good. But people need to earn it.
Update [30 March 2017]
Today, Major League Baseball announced that Jeurys Familia has been suspended without pay for fifteen games. As penalties for domestic violence go, it is by far the smallest ever administered by MLB. Mr. Familia declared that he will not appeal the suspension. He has also agreed to appear in the United States and in his native Dominican Republic at Major League Baseball’s rookie programs to talk about his experience and to advocate against domestic violence. He will also speak in New York at a group that aids victims of domestic violence. In a written statement issued today, through the MLB Players Association, Mr. Familia said,
“With all that has been written and discussed regarding this matter, it is important that it be known that I never physically touched, harmed or threatened my wife that evening. I did, however, act in an unacceptable manner and am terribly disappointed in myself. I am alone to blame for the problems of that evening.
“My wife and I cooperated fully with Major League Baseball’s investigation, and I’ve taken meaningful steps to assure that nothing like this will ever happen again. I have learned from this experience, and have grown as a husband, a father, and a man. I apologize to the Mets’ organization, my teammates, and all my fans. I look forward to rejoining the Mets and being part of another World Series run. Out of respect for my teammates and my family, I will have no further comment.”
In his own statement, Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote,
“Mr. Familia and his wife cooperated fully throughout the investigation, including submitting to in-person interviews with MLB’s Department of Investigations.”
He also explained the relatively short suspension by saying,
“The evidence reviewed by my office does not support a determination that Mr. Familia physically assaulted his wife, or threatened her or others with physical force or harm, on October 31, 2016. Nevertheless, I have concluded that Mr. Familia’s overall conduct that night was inappropriate, violated the Policy, and warrants discipline.”
Both Mr. Familia and his wife, Bianca Rivas, claim that he neither caused her bodily harm nor physically threatened her. The arrest report indicates that the Mets pitcher, who stands six feet, four inches and weighs two hundred fifty pounds, admitted to damaging a bedroom door with his shoulder, behavior that one can imagine causing Ms. Rivas more than a little concern. After an argument, Mr. Familia also barricaded himself in a bathroom, where police found two knives. Ms. Rivas told police that her husband had used the knives to wedge the door shut, and that he never used them to intimidate her.
Regarding the incident, Kim A. Gandy, the president and chief executive officer of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said,
“What most victims of domestic violence want is for the violence to stop. They don’t want the abuser to be punished; they just want the violence to stop. The fact that she called nine-one-one and he smashed a door in would have left a reasonable person thinking there was some threat of harm.”
Commissioner Manfred also wrote,
“It is clear that Mr. Familia regrets what transpired that night and takes full responsibility for his actions.”
With respect to Mr. Familia’s completion of a dozen ninety-minute counseling sessions, the commissioner said that the Mets pitcher
“received a favorable evaluation from the counselor regarding his willingness to take concrete steps to ensure that he is not involved in another incident of this type. Further, he has agreed to speak to other players about what he has learned through this process, and to donate time and money to local organizations aimed at the prevention of, and the treatment of victims of, domestic violence.”
As a Mets fan, I’m pleased that Mr. Familia’s suspension clocked in at only fifteen games. As a man, I am satisfied that his bad behavior has been addressed and punished, and also will be used as a motivating force for him to speak out against his own actions and to counsel others about the evils of domestic violence. For his wife and son, as well as for his own sake, I hope that he truly has learned from this incident. For the moment, I will give Mr. Familia the benefit of the doubt, and I look forward to cheering him on again.
But I’ll also be watching.
©2017 David R. George III