How can sports fans separate celebrating players from condemning them in domestic violence cases?

New York Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia (27) walks off the field at the end of the top of the ninth inning after giving up a three-run home run to San Francisco Giants' Conor Gillaspie during the National League wild-card baseball game, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, in New York. The Giants won 3-0. (Kathy Willens/AP)

On Oct. 31, Mets closer Jeurys Familia was arrested on domestic violence charges in Fort Lee, N.J. While nothing has been proven or disproven yet, Familia allegedly caused “bodily harm to another,” which left a scratch on the chest and a bruise to the right cheek of the victim. Ironically, he was featured in an anti-domestic violence PSA that featured multiple icons from various New York sports teams.   

This isn’t the first time in recent memory that a Major League baseball player has been involved in a domestic violence incident. Current Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman was suspended 30 games at the beginning of the 2016 season after he allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired eight gunshots in the garage of his home in Florida, becoming the first player to be suspended under the MLB’s new Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy.

In addition, 2016 Mets pickup Jose Reyes was arrested on Oct. 31, 2015 in Maui when Reyes and his wife allegedly had an argument that escalated into Reyes inflicting injuries to his wife, including grabbing her by the neck and pushing her through a glass door. Then on the Rockies, Reyes was suspended 51 games and was eventually designated for assignment by the Rockies, who ultimately released him. The Mets picked him up at the end of June and he became a centerpiece in the offense that helped the Mets make the postseason for back-to-back years for the first time since 1999/2000.

When I first heard that the Mets were signing Reyes, I didn’t know how to feel. The domestic violence case was dropped because Reyes’ wife would not cooperate with the prosecution, and it was never actually proven or not if Reyes actually committed the crimes he was accused of (though he seemed to own up to his actions and apologize, like, thirty times).

It was hard. My team was technically still in a playoff race, and injuries were so bad that I wanted all the help the team could get. But how could I possibly root for a guy who shoved his wife through a glass door? Why would I want the Mets to essentially put the domestic violence issue aside and treat Reyes like any other player, which he wasn’t?

Unlike a lot of people, I don’t think the Mets handled the situation all that poorly. In cases like these, general managers and fans alike must walk a fine line of making a baseball decision and making a moral decision. The Mets made Reyes donate to domestic violence-related charities, and at that point in his career, Reyes had already served his suspension; unlike the situation with Chapman and the Yankees, where they signed him in the offseason before he had served any type of suspension.

When Reyes first came up to the Mets again, it was hard to cheer for him. Even though he was such a dynamic player in his first stint with the Mets back in 2003-2011, it was difficult for me to process just how different of a person he was now. I couldn’t help but think that every time I rooted for him to do well, I was rooting for a guy who harmed his wife. In some strange way, my rooting for his baseball success seemed like I was condoning his domestic violence.

This feeling wavered over time. I learned to separate baseball from outside life, and I was okay with myself getting excited for Reyes without feeling like I was rooting for him as a person. Nobody knew if this incident was just one of many, or if it was one small mistake amidst a noble life. Nobody will ever know.

The unfolding situation with Familia is interesting. He has been a member of the Mets’ organization since 2007 when he was signed in the amateur draft. He has been with the major league team since 2012. This is different than the two incidents I mentioned above, where the team signed the player with the explicit knowledge that these players allegedly inflicted harm on their partners. This literally just unfolded; and in the offseason, no less. There is no way that the Mets could have seen this coming.

Familia’s incident is in no way reflective of the Mets as an organization… yet. The real test will be just how well they handle this. Even though Familia broke the Mets’ single season save record with 51 saves, he had a tendency to let situations get too far out of hand, often giving up leadoff singles or leadoff walks. In his second season as closer, his control was distinctly worse than the previous year. Mets fans (inducing myself, honestly) have still not forgiven him for blowing game one and game five of the World Series, and he added to his infamy by giving up a three-run home run to Connor Gillapsie in the ninth inning of the Wild Card game this year (seriously, that’s the most painful game I have ever been to in my entire life).

The universe seems to be telling the Mets that it’s time to relegate Familia to a less important role in 2017. Hell, the universe may be telling them to get rid of him altogether and make Addison Reed the closer. A lot of people want the Mets to get rid of Familia solely based on the domestic violence allegation. A lot of people are saying it’s stupid to even bring up baseball implications in a situation so raw, so close to home for so many people.

As I’ve been writing this, I was hoping that I would have formulated a distinct opinion by now. But I can’t. I don’t know what the right move is. I don’t know if Familia’s alleged actions warrant any type of exoneration from the team. I don’t know if it’s okay to keep him because Familia, no matter how erratic at times, has cemented himself as an integral part of the Mets’ bullpen. At this point, we don’t even know if the allegations are true. He still is entitled to going through a trial if that’s the way it goes.

Under the MLB’s new policy, he could still be suspended based on his actions. But the way the Mets choose to address this issue is either going to make them a lot of enemies or a lot of friends. They were questioned quite a bit after signing Reyes, and they face the risk of more bad PR depending on what they do with Familia.

But does PR even matter in a situation like this? I mean, a guy caused physical harm to his wife. How can that be condoned in any setting, whether it’s an All-Star pitcher or Average Joe from across the street?

This is the dilemma that sports fans face. Is it okay to talk about baseball at a time like this? Truthfully, it’s not the worst thing in the world that can be done. Athletes are in some of the most unique situations on the planet, and after all, they are part of a business; and no matter how much we as humans don’t want to admit it, a lot of our decisions are based off of so-called business matters rather than morals.

But at the same time, his allegations cannot be ignored. He cannot get a free pass for this. He deserves to serve some kind of punishment for this. He does not deserve the same type of praise he normally would until he has served his punishment.

The thing that makes this so hard is that we as fans will never know if a player has truly learned his lesson. Sure, the organization can make them go through domestic violence workshops and donate to charities, and the MLB can prevent them from playing baseball for a while, but whether any of these things actually teach a player his lesson is something that only the player will ever know.

We as fans have to be able to come to terms with this reality. It’s okay to cheer for a player who once did something bad. It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily condoning their actions, but instead you’re able to separate the sports world from the real one and can solely root for a player to contribute to the team in a meaningful way.

Is this the right approach? Who knows. Is it okay to say that separating the sports world from the real world is a good solution? Maybe, maybe not. Everyone has different opinions because everyone’s experience with situations like this are different. Some may never be able to forgive Chapman, Reyes or Familia. Some may. Some might not care at all. Just like with the players, only we as individuals have the right to deem whether our choices are good or not. It becomes a lot trickier when you’re dealing with two completely different worlds.


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan