In its immediate aftermath, Rajai Davis’ eighth-inning game-tying home run in Game 7 of the World Series felt like the biggest gut-punch in Cubs history. For me and many other Cubs fans, the fact that Aroldis Chapman was the one who surrendered that home run made an unbearable moment even more painful.
I had been struggling with the moral dilemma of rooting for Chapman – the first player to be sentenced under MLB’s new domestic violence policy – since the Cubs acquired him in July. Last offseason, Chapman was investigated after he allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired his gun into a garage wall. Chapman was never charged because of conflicting statements given by witnesses and denied doing any bodily harm to the woman, but he showed little remorse over the incident in his initial media interviews in New York and Chicago, save for a couple of stale statements put out by PR teams.
As a lifelong Cubs fan, I didn’t want to give up rooting for my team because of one bad egg, but I couldn’t get over the poor message the Cubs sent by giving up a heavy ransom to go out and get this player. From personal experience, I also knew that a personal boycott would change absolutely nothing.
The first time Chapman entered a game at Wrigley Field in July, the standing ovation he got gave me a pit in my stomach that led to some soul searching. Eventually, that led to the idea behind the #pitchin4DV campaign: I would donate $10 every time Chapman recorded a save for Chicago. I threw out the idea on Twitter simply because I knew there were a few others who were as conflicted as I was. Long story short, the idea caught the eye of a few Chicago media types and national baseball writers and blossomed into a campaign that’s generated more than $35,000 for the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic of Chicago and hundreds more for other charities.
Perhaps this is a sign of selfishness on my part, but as the campaign grew, watching Chapman became less painful for me. Watching the donations steadily grow was cool, especially as they came in from Cubs fans and other baseball fans from across the country and the world. As my friend Joan Niesen reported in a story for Sports Illustrated, contested orders of protection for victims of domestic violence cost between $650 and $1,100, meaning that $35,000 could bring more than 50 women in Chicago closer to safety. In a time when our city needs some positive energy, that’s pretty remarkable.
Equally as cool was logging onto the @pitchin4DV twitter handle after each save and seeing that several Cubs fans had already announced the win and urged their followers to donate. Over the past few years, as we’ve dealt with case after case of domestic abuse and sexual assault from athletes, the loudest voices on Twitter are often those who immediately jump to the defense of the athlete. It was really comforting to see how many other people were in the same boat as me, squirming as Chapman recorded those final outs each night.
So back to that World Series game. We all know how that ended: the scoreless ninth, the rain delay, the Cubs rally, the first title in 108 years. Chapman exited after that delay, with Carl Edwards Jr. recording the first two outs of the bottom of the 10th and Mike Montgomery notching the third. We did not have to deal with the feeling that we compromised our principles to root for Chapman, only to see him blow the Cubs’ shot at a world championship.
Somehow, having someone other than Chapman on the mound for that final out made the moment I had been waiting for my whole life even better. A number of #pitchin4DV donors made it clear with their comments that his absence made the moment sweeter for them, too. It felt like a wink from the baseball gods.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have mattered whether he got the last out or not. It didn’t change the fact that the Cubs forced their fans into that moral dilemma. It didn’t erase the crucial eight-out save Chapman recorded in Game 5. You could argue that the Cubs could have won the title without him, but there’s no way of proving it.
But as a woman, when a perpetrator of domestic violence plays for your favorite team, it’s easy to get the message that team ownership doesn’t care about its female fans. It means something that in a moment that will forever replay in my mind, Chapman will be off screen, and I’ll be spared that feeling. When I show my kids and grandkids that video to try to explain what it was like to live in a world where the Cubs hadn’t won for 100-plus years, there will forever be Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant rushing into each other’s arms without Chapman in between.
As I come down from the World Series euphoria, I’m left to figure out where the campaign goes from here. It seems unlikely the Cubs will re-sign Chapman – the Yankees have already gotten in contact with his agent – but I don’t want to abandon the cause.
We could, of course, do this every time there’s an objectionable sports figure. In New York, a group of Giants fans raised more than $2,500 through a #fieldgoals4DV campaign centering on kicker Josh Brown before he was ultimately cut from the team. There likely won’t be any shortage of these cases any time soon, but I’m sure the novelty of these campaigns would wear off eventually.
Ultimately, I hope #pitchin4DV has two lasting effects:
- Fans with social consciences continue to make our voices heard when our teams acquire or promote a player with domestic or sexual violence in his past. Each tweet promoting the campaign served in some small way to send a message: We may still be rooting for the Cubs, but we’re not happy about the decision they’ve made to acquire a player who is unremorseful about his violent act, and we’re not going to let the issue fade into the background.
Domestic violence is endlessly complicated. There is no perfect league policy that can translate a heinous crime into a number of baseball games, and a zero-tolerance lifetime ban is not a good solution either. But by continuing to show that we care, fans can keep the pressure on so our leagues might be mindful of the messages they send with the actions they take.
- Those who got on board to relieve their Chapman guilt will continue to be involved with local domestic violence advocates. Cases like Chapman’s are the ones that get conversations going about domestic violence, but this type of violence happens in our own communities every single day.
We may not have power over the decision-making of the Cubs’ front office, but we do have some small power to create change in our city and country. I know I personally have always been concerned about domestic violence, but until this year, I never considered what I could do to take the next step. My biggest hope is that this can be a jumping-off point for people to consider the things they can control and give what they’re able to make their communities better.
To donate to the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic of Chicago, visit Razoo.
Lead photo courtesy of David Richard—USA Today Sports