MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies

BP Mets Unfiltered: The return of Jeurys Familia

Mets closer Jeurys Familia’s 15-game suspension is coming to an end this Thursday, but the closer may not be back in his closing spot in the rotation immediately.
The 27-year-old righty, who led the major leagues last season with 51 saves, returned to the minors on Saturday, where he threw a perfect inning in St. Lucie.
Familia was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault after the police were called to his New Jersey home for a domestic dispute last Halloween. Though his wife, Bianca Rivas, was found with scratches and a bruised cheek, Familia maintains that he did not physically assault her, and the charges were later dropped at Rivas’ request.
Discerning the facts of any domestic violence case can be tricky, but in looking at the broader patterns of domestic abuse, the fact that an actual charge was filed means substantiating evidence was present at the scene. Unfortunately, Rivas’ subsequent request for the charge’s dismissal doesn’t necessarily negate the event, either—in fact, refusal to pursue justice is by far the most common response from domestic violence victims to their assaults. Between 50-70% of domestic violence incidents go completely unreported, and 70% of dropped charges are abandoned due to a victim’s desire not to pursue or refusal to testify. This hesitancy to cooperate stems, in addition to the emotional turmoil of taking a loved one to court, from the grave danger it puts a survivor in: 30-60% of abusers are repeat offenders, and up to 75% of women killed in domestic violence incidents die while attempting to leave, or after she has left, the abusive partner.
In the end, legal questions notwithstanding, MLB itself did find Familia guilty of violating their domestic violence policy, thus the suspension and mandated counseling. The question is, what happens now?
Manager Terry Collins’s comments about Familia’s return suggest the potential mid-rotation placement was baseball-motivated rather than punitive, a move to let him ease back into higher-pressure situations, “just letting him get back out there and getting a feel for it.”
Nonetheless, some fans have considered the move a castigatory one. Some are in support of the decision, especially in contrast to the Mets’ hero’s welcome of Jose Reyes, also alleged domestic violence assailant, last season. (For more on Reyes’s current troubles—what our own Jarrett Seidler calls “one of the absolute dirt-worst starts in baseball”—see here.) Other fans consider holding Familia back from his key role unnecessary, especially in the face the team’s relief performance of late.
Both sides have valid points: on the one hand, Familia served his suspension, and lost approximately $730,000 doing it; on the other, MLB, alongside most professional sports organizations, have a long and esteemed tradition of sweeping players’ violent crimes under the plate.
I, too, feel moments of ambivalence. Do I want to be gripped with anxiety watching the Phillies make a comeback as soon as Zack Wheeler steps off the mound? Hell no. Am I annoyed when deGrom pitches 7 innings with 13 strikeouts, only to see the Mets lose? As a Mets fan and deGrom fantasy owner, dually so. Do I have a bout of acid reflux pretty much any time Addison Reed materializes? Indeed.
And yet, I am a woman operating within a sports world (and a society at large) who would be quite happy to ignore the inequity and danger women face daily, if they thought they could get away with it (and they often do). Even if I really, really want to tune out and watch the “just a game!” baseball game, I don’t have the option of flicking an on/off switch for being a woman, so I can’t support a system that allows players the option to flick an on/off criminal switch upon leaving the field.
Outside huge societal and criminal justice reform, the solution for baseball, I think, is in part developing a protocol that comes from the top—strict, consistent penalties for every violator of the domestic violence policy (or other policies), accompanied by MLB-wide instructions that detail the necessary steps for reintegration of a player if and when his suspension has been completed. Instituting specific directives that players and fans know about ahead of time would reshape both groups’ perception of domestic violence in a manner that reflects the serious nature crime, for victims themselves, and the children wearing players’ names on their backs, watching their every move.
Without a doubt, I want to live in a reality where the Mets go to the World Series. But I also want to live in a world where baseball players are good role models and where victims of crimes are given the chance at a safe and healthy life while their attackers are brought to justice (and, if possible, are rehabilitated). There’s no reason why these two things should be mutually exclusive. If I have to choose, though, I won’t choose baseball.

Photo credit:  Derik Hamilton – USA Today Sports

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