Faux Outrage in Sports

By Kevin Solove

My favorite major league baseball team is the Los Angeles Dodgers. I have rooted for the Dodgers for as long as I can remember – despite the fact that the last time they won the World Series was years before I was born. This past season was particularly frustrating, as a lack of timely hitting, pitching depth, and an over-worked inexperienced bullpen sent the Dodgers packing after 5 games with the Mets.

The offseason was filled with hope, the idea of resigning star pitcher Zach Greinke was a foregone conclusion, and the thought of adding a star with him, like a David Price, made Dodgers fans everywhere salivate. But then Greinke signed with the Diamondbacks, and Price with the Red Sox. Suddenly this offseason that was supposed to be the answer to our problems, the solution to getting past the Mets or Cardinals, was becoming a nightmare.

That is why I was so happy on December 7th, 2015 when I heard the breaking news: Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Dodgers.

Aroldis Chapman is a flame throwing closer, who at that point pitched for the Cincinnati Reds. Known to hit 100 miles per hour on a consistent basis, and having even been clocked hitting 105, I was ecstatic to have the all-star reliever to be a Dodger! But then, on December 10th, just three days later, it was reported that the trade that was supposed to save the Dodgers offseason, may not become a reality.

As reported by Jeff Todd from MLB Trade Rumors, the Dodgers held up the deal due to ongoing investigation into Aroldis Chapman. This investigation, as written by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, involved Chapman allegedly choking his girlfriend, and unloading his gun, 8 bullets in all, in her vicinity, due to an argument they had. Despite the lack of arrests made when the incident occurred, the Dodgers, according to Anothony Irwin of Dodgers nation, felt that the situation and the image of trading for a player in this situation was not becoming of their team, brand, and image.

As a fan, I understood this although I was upset. I wanted to win and I felt like Chapman gave us the best shot, but I thought it made sense to uphold the franchise as one of integrity and high moral character. That is why it shocked me when just two weeks later, the New York Yankees traded for Chapman. This infuriated me – why was it ok for the Yankees to trade for the alleged woman beater and not ok for the Dodgers to do so? That is what lead me to write this commentary.

I believe that the reason, in the public’s eye, that it was ok for the Yankees to trade for Chapman and not the Dodgers, is because two weeks after news of the incident broke, it was no longer a hot or trending story. I think that in this sense, sports is a microcosm of a society that we live in where outrage is feigned about these issues while it is popular to do so, but when push comes to shove, true outrage is few and far between.

I see it every day in my daily life: when a cause is popular, everyone jumps on board and it becomes a big issue, until it no longer is popular. The cause does not go away, just the public’s feigned interest in it does, because the interest was a façade all along for many people. This was the case with the occupy Wall Street movement, the black lives matters movement, the ALS ice bucket challenge, the Paris shooting, and many more.

The issue gets brought to the forefront when it is popular, but then after a while, despite the issue not going away, the public response just is not there anymore. People are activists so long as there is a filter for them to use and a hashtag for them to post. For example, ALS is still a debilitating disease and African Americans are still getting disproportionately killed by police officers, and yet the movements associated with these issues no longer dominate the mainstream media. This same issue that plagues society, is present in sports, and is seen in two distinct ways. One, Society’s short attention span. Two, actions taken in the name of profits, not in the name of what is right.

The Ray Rice incident is the quintessential example of the difference that public popularity makes. When Roger Goodell first suspended Ray Rice for two games following his domestic violence offense against his fiancé, the public, for the most part, was fine with the action. There was not a mass uproar banging the table for a longer suspension. That uproar did end up occurring, a few months later when TMZ released a video of the violence. After the public saw the video, their outrage emerged, and due to this outrage, Roger Goodell felt compelled to change Rice’s suspension from 2 games to “indefinite”. What is important to note here is that, as a judge ruled, Rice told Goodell exactly what occurred and when he heard, Goodell levied the 2 game suspension. When Goodell changed the suspension to indefinite, it was not because he learned anything new in the investigation nor had anything changed. He was responding to the public’s perception because his league is profit-driven league that is bound to its popularity as a way to make money.

This phenomena, profits being pursued over what is right, is not unique to the Ray Rice situation. There have been numerous examples of actions being swept under the rug by coaches, managers, owners, and more because they could hurt the team, without a care for the issue at hand. This was evident in the Jameis Winston rape investigation, where the police persuaded the student to not open up an investigation.

It was also apparent in Urban Meyer’s tenure at the University of Florida, where incidents were reported to have occurred and then been swept under the rug because they included star players, like Aaron Hernandez. The preference given to winning over social issues is most evident in a quote from Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim who posited that ““If Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3, we’d probably diagnose it as an eating disorder.” I find this quote both amusing and appalling. This gives an idea as to the level of care given to real issues, issues such as domestic violence, or crimes. They fall by the wayside when success and profits are involved.

Part of the reason these issues can fall by the wayside and not seem to matter, is the public’s forgetfulness. Similar to the out-of-sight out-of-mind approach that occurs in many actions and causes in society, once the popularity of the issue wanes, so does the public’s interest.

Take for example, Adrian Peterson. After Peterson, a star running back for the Vikings, got in trouble for allegedly beating his child, and the public showed outrage. But what happened after he served his suspension from the NFL and returned to play? He was beloved once again, even finishing in the top 5 in running back jersey sales in 2015. In 2015, the actions Peterson took in the years prior that involved purposefully beating his own child did not go away, and yet the public response to him was a complete 180 degree change. I believe that this is because many in the public never truly cared about the issue, never truly had outrage over the child abuse that occurred, but joined those who truly cared, and feigned outrage because it was popular.

This issue is both present in sports and in society, and is a huge problem. When people do not truly care about the issues, and only care about being in the movement of the month, change is likely to not occur. When people do not care about the issues, then they are left feeling satisfied that a player got suspended a few games, or that Major League Baseball decided to implement new policies against domestic violence. This half-hearted outrage allows the horrific issues that they are about persist in our society. We never hear talks of mandatory counseling for athletes who committed domestic violence acts, despite the fact that the National Institute of Justice found in 2009 that counseling empirically decreases likelihood of future violence, nor do we hear of disgust years later.

People spoke out against domestic violence when it was popular to, during the Ray Rice scandal, and yet what are we left with? Only 11% of police departments have specialized domestic violence units, despite their documented successes in both decreasing reabuses and increasing reabuse reporting. When society only cares about popular issues, and cares about them insofar as they are popular, we are left with a society that cares truly cares about nothing. It should not be ok for Aroldis Chapman to be traded when the dust has settled, the dust should never settle in the first place. This is not coming from a fan of the Dodgers, but rather from a fan of humanity and justice.

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