Winning, but at What Cost? On Jose Reyes, The Mets, and Domestic Violence in Sports

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at New York Mets
Jose Reyes just re-signed with the New York Mets, the organization that first signed him, and he should be able to help a team that could use an offensive spark. However, as someone who not long ago was arrested and charged for assaulting his wife, should the Mets have brought him back? (Photo Credit: Debby Wong/US Presswire)

Though I write mostly about social, political and economic issues for the purposes of United States of Joe, one of my most passionate interests is following professional sports. Being a resident of the proud state of New Jersey (motto: “Take our governor—please!“), my favorite teams are based either in the Garden State or close by: New Jersey Devils, New York (despite the fact they play in East Rutherford, NJ) Giants. I am nominally a New York Knicks fan, but as someone who is not a huge fan of pro basketball, and as the Knicks of late have only nominally resembled a professional sports franchise, I’m OK with being only a casual follower of the cagers who call Madison Square Garden home.

I also happen to be a fan of the New York Mets. In a house of Yankees fans, which is interesting enough in itself, but that’s a story for another blog. As a Mets fan, I, like many opinionated bleeders of blue and orange, possess my fair share of ideas for how the team may be improved in light of its apparent needs. Thus, when the Colorado Rockies designated shortstop José Reyes for assignment and ultimately put him on waivers, I, again, like any number of Mets fans, thought it would be a good idea to re-sign the speedster.

I say re-sign because, for those readers who may not be aware, José Reyes started his Major League Baseball career with the New York Mets, playing in most, or at least part, of nine seasons with the team. In fact, he was signed by the organization at the tender age of 16 out of the Dominican Republic. It is not a stretch to say that for much of his tenure as a professional baseball player, the Mets were like a second family for Reyes. So, certainly, there is a personal history for the player, as well as for the team. Moreover, for those who remember the “good times”—however rosily they may recall them—there is a certain fondness factor there for José Reyes.

Speaking of Reyes’ history, it is a more recent chapter in his larger life saga which is a point of contention for many. Prior to his designation for assignment, José was involved in a physical altercation with his wife while in Hawaii. As Chelsea Davis reported for Hawaii News Now, Reyes was arrested and charged in the wake of the incident. According to his wife, Katherine Ramirez, while in their hotel room at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, José grabbed her off the bed and shoved her, and later grabbed her by the throat and shoved her into a sliding glass door to the balcony. As Ramirez told police, she had suffered injuries to her neck, thigh and wrist.

Since the events of the assault, which occurred on Halloween in 2015, the domestic abuse charge against José Reyes, as reported by The Associated Press in March, was scheduled to be dismissed by the office of the Maui County prosecuting attorney, owing to a lack of cooperation on Katherine Ramirez’s part. Thus, within the sphere of the criminal justice system and courts of law, Reyes is apparently free of any further obligation. However, pursuant to a recent amendment to Major League Baseball’s policy of player conduct concerning domestic violence, José was suspended through May 31, retroactive to February 23, when he was placed on leave by the Rockies.

The suspension has since passed, and as noted, there is no longer concern about a criminal trial for José Reyes. Meanwhile, the events of that fateful Halloween still linger in the minds of fans, and certainly, Reyes continues to be tried in the court of public opinion. Such that, with the Mets actually moving to re-sign him earlier this week, a number of the team’s fans as well as other concerned parties have voiced their displeasure with the roster move. Olivia Devlin, a Mets fan, actually started a petition addressed to the team’s general manager, Sandy Alderson, asking him to refuse to re-sign Reyes, insisting that support for him is support for domestic abuse and violence. Devlin has stated she will refuse to support the Mets, least of all refusing to go to games, in the event they do bring José Reyes back. Which they have. Not sure if Olivia will live up to her promise, but that’s neither here nor there. I respect her position immensely.

It’s more than just one woman and a petition, though, as noted. Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of the New York City Council, for one, expressed her anger at the New York Mets, saying in a statement, “It’s outrageous how little women’s lives seem to matter when someone can throw a baseball really hard, wins Super Bowls, or has a good jump shot. Domestic violence kills thousands of women every year and it’s time professional sports actually takes it seriously. The Mets should be ashamed. We need to be better.” ESPN senior writer Keith Law, in a piece published on Monday, believes that the signing of Reyes sends the wrong message to fans and the Mets organization, writing:

The Mets bear a responsibility to be leaders in the community. Instead, they’re baseball’s Dallas Cowboys, who signed Greg Hardy on the cheap because his own domestic violence incident made him a pariah to other clubs, then telling us all how Hardy was a changed man. The team’s owners and front office made the active choice to pursue a player with no current ties to the organization in spite of his recent arrest. Doing so makes it clear that winning one more game is more important than taking a stand on domestic violence.

Other teams, including the Colorado Rockies themselves, the last team to contract with José Reyes, wanted nothing to do with him. Of course, in the Rockies’ case, it helped to have rookie Trevor Story, unexpectedly putting up All-Star-type numbers, to fall back on, so to speak. If Colorado were hurting at the shortstop position, perhaps their sense of morality might not be as strong.

From the baseball fan’s perspective, I believe the ultimate decision to bring Reyes back to the Mets, in terms of one’s reaction to the move, rests on three questions: 1) Do you believe José Reyes expresses true contrition for his actions? 2) Does he deserve a second chance? and 3) Do the first two questions even matter?

gal-vick-protest5-jpg
Even after serving prison time for running a dogfighting ring, Michael Vick faced protests upon his apparent reinstatement by the NFL. Jose Reyes, on the heels of a suspension for domestic abuse, likely will too. (Photo Source: David Handschuh/New York Daily News)

On the first count, one can only know what José really feels. Though this is purely conjecture on the part of a number of us following the story, we would believe that Sandy Alderson believes he (Reyes) regrets what happened in that hotel room in October, and is not merely putting the team’s record above all other concerns. We all can decide for ourselves whether or not we think José is being genuine with his mea culpa, but without knowing him personally, this, too, is conjecture.

On the second count, well, it’s complicated, and may be, in large part, related to what you believe about Question #1. From my purely anecdotal research, it would seem the majority of Mets fans do feel José Reyes deserves another chance, but much may depend on whether or not you think the offense is too severe to merit forgiveness. I’m immediately reminded of the controversy surrounding Michael Vick when he applied for reinstatement to the NFL following his serving 18 months in prison for running a dogfighting ring. In light of the time he served and his pledged commitment to be a voice in promoting awareness of animal cruelty, many thought Vick’s reinstatement was a fair deal, but for conscientious objectors whose love for animals is their overriding concern, the decision of the Philadelphia Eagles to sign the quarterback (the irony of a team with an animal mascot signing someone who had just gotten out of jail for running a dogfighting ring not withstanding) was worthy of much scorn. Indeed, there were protests outside the Eagles’ stadium following Vick’s signing, as there were when he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers—years removed from his initial suspension from the National Football League and his arrest. Some will neither forgive Michael Vick nor forget, and I don’t know that they’re wrong on that end.

On the third count, yes, it does matter what José Reyes did, and it should. This is why Major League Baseball and the National Football League have taken steps to address the pervasiveness of domestic violence in the United States today, and why Aroldis Chapman (MLB) and Ray Rice (NFL) received suspensions regardless of being found of any criminal wrongdoing. Some would argue these disciplinary measures did not go far enough, and that may well be, but at least the commissioners of these leagues are acknowledging the problem in some respect. But there are some baseball fans and Mets fans who take a purely utilitarian view of the situation, or even suggest Katherine Ramirez may be at fault. I saw one Twitter user recently post something to the effect of “I would let all 25 members of the team beat their wives if it would win the Mets games.” Brutal, disturbing, but someone actually took the time to write that out and make it public.

So, what do I believe? Since I’m asking the questions, it’s only fair I answer them, too. On the first count, again, one can’t truly know what José Reyes believes, feels or thinks, but the cynical side of me can’t help but think he would say anything if he could play major-league baseball again. On the second count, the optimistic side of me believes that people can change, and accordingly, Reyes should get a second chance. On the third count, I believe sentiments like the one above are reprehensible—that winning counts more than the bodily and mental well-being of women. No partner or spouse—man or woman—deserves to be abused emotionally, physically, psychologically, or sexually.

In the end, though, I can’t pretend like my perspective is an objective one. As a Mets fan, I want José Reyes back because I feel he would help the team on the field. By the same token, Olivia Devlin’s viewpoints are colored by her own subjective experience. As she writes within her petition:

I used to work in a domestic violence shelter.  I know women who went back to partners because of societal or family pressures, or because the abuser convinced them that they would change or that it was their fault.  I know women who died at the hands of their partners, and I once dated a man who thought it was OK to hurt me. Every woman – OR MAN – who suffers this indignity deserves to have their voice heard, and their trauma recognised.

Why Katherine Ramirez was uncooperative with the Maui County prosecutor’s office one can only venture a guess, or for that matter, why she has chosen to stay with Reyes. I would hope it is not because she feels she has no other option, which would go to Devlin’s point. Then again, maybe that much is immaterial in the decision about whether or not the Mets should have taken José Reyes back. Once an abuser, always an abuser, etc., etc.

Regardless, the onus is on Reyes and the New York Mets to, as Keith Law put it, “be leaders in the community.” Going back to the tale of Michael Vick, the former star NFL quarterback has been a messenger for The Humane Society of the United States and a supporter of their Pets for Life program. In this way, perhaps José can be a role model to others on the subject of domestic abuse and violence, teaching others while he learns to live with his mistake. Then again, as some might argue, he can just as well do that as a free agent.

Ultimately, we are left to wonder whether or not there is a “right” course of action, and who decides such matters anyhow. I don’t know that there is one, in all honesty. Many will be cheering when José Reyes finally takes to the field for the major-league New York Mets. Some, like Olivia Devlin, will likely be protesting outside Citi Field. I will still be watching games on TV and going to games. But I will be doing so with that much more weight on my conscience—and hoping those of us supporting Reyes’ return aren’t terribly wrong about him in the process.

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