There is a legend the Chicago Cubs’ World Series drought began when a goat was asked to leave Wrigley Field during game 4 of the 1945 World Series. But by winning the World Series, the Cubs shattered that legend. Still, the fate of a billy goat will likely remain more present in the minds of baseball fans’ than the fact that the Cubs’ fire-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman was arrested on suspicion of spousal abuse a year earlier.
The fact is that Mr. Chapman’s violence against his girlfriend had less presence during the World Series than the ghost of a goat. Most likely, the casual remark from one of the Fox commentators towards the end of the seventh game may have been the incident’s only mention.
Arguments seem logical for the reasonableness of the silence. The police decided not to press charges against Mr. Chapman. Major League Baseball suspended Mr. Chapman for 30 games, and Mr. Chapman served his time. And when the Cubs acquired Mr. Chapman, General Manager Theo Epstein made it clear to the public the Cubs organization would hold Mr. Chapman to very clear behavioral standards.
But these are justifications, not convincing arguments. One aspect of the problem with how domestic abuse (or intimate partner violence) is treated today is that Mr. Chapman is in a special category because of his almost freakish ability to hurl a baseball at 105 mph. He and other elite athletes who’ve committed similar violence against their intimate partners occupy the insidious category entitled “Pass.”
“Pass” is insidious because domestic abuse is part of a cycle. It’s more like a syndrome than a one-time occurrence, more like untreated cancer than a broken leg. By the time the police are called, the cycle of intimate partner violence has progressed to the point where it is highly unlikely the couple will splint the fracture, heal, and be stronger at the point of the break.
Instead, the relationship has now progressed to where it’s entirely possible the relationship will end with the victim’s funeral. If you want to think about ghosts now, think about the ghost of Nicole Brown Simpson.
No abusive relationship begins with hair pulling, slapping, pushing, punching or assault with household objects. If it did, the answer to the perennial question, “Why doesn’t s/he just leave,” wouldn’t be so confounding. By the time the police are called, the relationship has already evolved through several descending stages.
The initial stage may take many forms. The would-be abuser might express jealousy over the victim’s social relationships (male or female), encourage or coerce the victim into wearing only certain clothes, or control the victim’s time or finances. And abusers are world-class rationalizers. One victimized woman had to call her husband when she left her office, and again when she arrived home. “It’s because I love you so much, I want to make sure you got home safely, or whether I need to call 911,” he explained. But if his wife was even a few minutes late in calling, his wrathful response looked more like control than love.
The abuser demonstrates consequences for violating his or her expectations with anger, silence, or other punitive behaviors, all with the effect of manipulating the victim to satisfy the abuser’s will. Withholding sex and intimacy, or forcing a sex act, are also common tools. The victim lives in a tense, terrifying world, walking on eggshells in an effort to keep the abuser stable.
Violence may enter the relationship as an uncontrollable outburst, perhaps over a minor slight or mistake. Or violence may begin with suggestions, and then threats, before it becomes real.
Lastly, after abuse occurs, the abuser may apologize, give gifts, make heart-felt assertions of regret, and/or promise it will never happen again. Pretending the abuse never happened, or saying “it wasn’t that bad,” may also contribute to denial of the abuse. And the victim is easily victimized further by this denial and minimization, or by a honeymoon phase, because she or he want so badly to have a normal, healthy relationship. As a result, even when the police are called, victims then find themselves withdrawing charges, failing to cooperate with investigations, or refusing to testify against their batterer.
It is this last step of deniability and minimization that is so dangerous for any abuser belonging to one of those groups of people who can get a “Pass” for their behavior. So many emotional and psychological forces already marshal against a victim, entrapping him or her in the abusive relationship. Enablers to the talented only make it worse. When they look beyond the behavior because the abuser can carry a long-suffering team to World Series, they feed deniability and facilitate minimization.
Major League Baseball and the Cubs organization laudably took steps to avoid giving Mr. Chapman a “Pass.” These actions were praiseworthy, however, largely in comparison to the weaker responses of other enablers. The least drunk teen at an underage bacchanal is not a hero. We will only pursue seriously the goal of ending domestic violence when we are prepared to “Fail” all perpetrators of domestic violence, regardless of their skills or abilities. Otherwise, we merely trade one goat for another.
--Mark A. Rothman, C.E.O.