The immediate reactions to Aroldis Chapman’s five-year, $86 million contract with the New York Yankees will fall into several categories. Some will be outraged that he’s become the highest paid relief pitcher in baseball history after his domestic violence suspension. Others will take the politically expeditious route saying that while they do not condone what he did, he has the right to work at market value. Still others won’t care a whit about the allegations as long as he lights up the radar gun and renders batters inert with his searing fastball that surpasses 100 miles-per-hour.
This is not to judge anyone who falls into those three categories or any other combination that emanate from so contentious an issue, but to state a reality that few want to acknowledge: regardless of what he’s done, as long as an athlete can perform on the field he’s going to get his money from somewhere.
The easy response regarding this particular case is to present a self-righteous polemic that the Yankees are a cold, corporate entity who care about nothing other than winning and do so with a contemptible worldview. The nuanced response is that had they not paid Chapman, someone else would have. In fact, several other teams would have.
Since there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the competition is growing fiercer, rules are in place to render the Yankees’ financial might as less of an advantage, and the organization is in the midst of a pseudo-rebuild that is placing them on the fringes – if that – of playoff contention, they have to make concessions they otherwise might not have had to make in the past. Rather than being an annual preseason favorite to win the World Series and the team players chose to join regardless of other suitors, the Yankees are among the rabble with multitude of holes and a “plan.” Part of that plan has involved an attempt at financial sanity and accepting that in order to take one step forward, they have to take two or three steps back resulting in four consecutive seasons of win totals in the mid-80s, one brief appearance in the postseason in which they were unceremoniously dispatched, and lost aura, ticket sales, memorabilia sales, and viewership on the YES Network. Suffice it to say that worrying about curing social ills such as Chapman being accused of domestic violence or the negative public relations they’ll get for signing him fall further and further down the list of worries.
Teams will express outrage over a domestic violence allegation commensurate with how the fans and media are reacting. Perhaps there’s a legitimate feeling of anger at what the player allegedly did, but the reality is that the bottom line will take precedence. If the player can help the billion dollar business maintain or increase its value and reach a higher level on the field, they’ll look beyond a great number of transgressions toward that end.
The talents that these athletes have is so narrow and difficult to find that there will always be multiple teams who will portray themselves as giving him a second chance in the American tradition, but in truth are simply looking out for their own interests.
The name Ray Rice is frequently mentioned in this context since he’s never been able to secure another job in the NFL following the disturbing video clip of him knocking his then-fiancée (now his wife) unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. He was subsequently suspended by the NFL and released by the Baltimore Ravens. He hasn’t been with an NFL organization since. The incident is only part of the reason why this is the case.
The video itself, shown below, is so graphic and disturbing that it added a layer of difficulty to him getting another chance in the NFL.
Without it, maybe he’d have gotten another job. That’s a big maybe for the simple reason that his ability to play was in question. For a team to take a chance on Rice, they would need to have the willingness to withstand the P.R. hit, have the need at running back, and, most importantly, believe that Rice can still play well enough to help them. If he were 24-years-old having just led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, do you really believe that him slugging his fiancée would stop some team, somewhere from signing him? The Ravens might not even have cut him. But Rice committed his act at exactly the wrong time in his career and in the wrong place that there was a video of it to have his employer or another franchise look beyond it, formulate an excuse-laden and banal statement excoriating the act while expressing belief in the player’s remorse and that he’s in treatment as a justification to give him another chance. In 2013, he had the worst season of his career and appeared to be in decline. The Ravens might have cut him without the video simply because he could not help them any longer.
Contrast that with Chapman. If he’d blown out his elbow or his fastball suddenly disappeared, he’s signing a minor league contract with a zero-tolerance mandate that if he does anything untoward, he’s gone. Since he’s boosted his credentials even further by proving he could play in New York and helping the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, he’s gotten a contract that he’d get if he was as solid a citizen as Dale Murphy.
Athletes are not paid to be a shining example to the public. They’re paid to perform. If they can perform, a multitude of sins both public and private will be mitigated; if they can’t, they won’t. This is not condoning what they did, just expressing a truth that has gone unacknowledged and will continue to be so.