MLB has suspended Mets closer Jeurys Familia 15 games for violating the league’s domestic violence policy. It’s a deeply unsatisfying conclusion to a story that provides no closure and will leave everyone involved feeling sick about it for the rest of Familia’s career.
Domestic violence suspensions feel this way because they’re for the public’s benefit, even though Familia didn’t sin against the public, he is alleged to have sinned against his wife, Bianca Rivas, whose face he is alleged to have bruised and whose chest he is alleged to have scratched in a drunken rage. We have to say “alleged” because Familia wasn’t even tried, which is how it always seems to work. José Reyes was never given a prison sentence after he was alleged to have choke-slammed his wife against a glass door, nor was Aroldis Chapman after he was alleged to have choked his girlfriend, then fired a gun eight times in his garage out of frustration, though MLB suspended both.
These suspensions always make us uncomfortable because sports leagues are entertainment companies; they’re not designed to mete out justice. They make us uncomfortable because once a domestic violence case leaves the courtroom and enters the commissioner’s office, it stops being an issue of punishment or societal correction and turns into a public relations issue. That means it’s no longer an issue that involves an abuser, a victim, and the state; it’s an issue that involves an abuser, an employer, labor representatives, and the employer’s customers. Rivas, who allegedly was beaten by a man who’d promised to love and protect her forever, is not represented as MLB determines how many baseball games her husband has to miss so that people won’t get mad at the Mets.
The equation that spat out that 15-game number is grotesque. Does Familia get credit, compared with Reyes and Chapman, for the allegations against him not being quite so viscerally horrifying? Is there a sliding scale of intimate partner violence? Does he get credit for attending counseling? Do we care that if the suspension were to last longer than 30 games he’d have to wait an extra year to become a free agent — which would, incidentally, allow the Mets to keep their star closer for another year on a below-market contract — and what kind of perverse incentive structure would that create?
A 15-game suspension does nothing to fix the problem, and it makes me sick to think about. But so would a 31-game suspension, or one that’s 80, or 162, or no suspension at all. That’s our punishment, as a society, for caring more about whether someone can throw a baseball than how that person treats others. For raising adults whose ability to comprehend power never advanced beyond “my dad can beat up your dad.” For failing to teach our children not to lay hands on their partners, and for failing to deconstruct the societal structures that allow men to continue to disrespect women. Because suspending Familia isn’t going to deter the next batterer; the only way to change this behavior is to deconstruct the way we think about gender, violence, and power in our society, and come up with something a little less inhumane.
Our punishment, for our complicity in these heartbreaking incidents, as they happen over, and over, and over, is to feel a little queasy about a relief pitcher sometimes. Maybe we’re not being punished enough.