Usually, David Ortiz speaking his mind is a positive, or it's at least entertaining. He often says the things other players do not because he's in a position to do so, and also, if you couldn't tell, he doesn't care that much if you disagree. On Wednesday, though, when Ortiz defended this offseason's players accused of domestic violence, it wasn't a positive, and it certainly was not entertaining.
It was, however, a reminder of why Major League Baseball is intent on changing the way their players think. It was a reminder of why they instituted new rules for handling domestic abusers and cases of domestic violence, and it was a reminder of why MLB aims to educate their players on domestic violence.
It's not just an attempt to dissuade potential abusers from the crime -- it's also so that everyone else in the game understands the significance of domestic violence -- of the crime their friends, their co-workers, committed. Given Ortiz's comments, that education is necessary, because you know that he's far from alone in this mindset even if he's the only one speaking it.
One way to know this is true is just by looking at what Ortiz said. As Craig Calcaterra pointed out at Hardball Talk, Ortiz's line about Jose Reyes and Aroldis Chapman being "good guys" is code for "I'm friends with this person." Do you think Ortiz is the only one who is friends with Reyes or Chapman? Or that no one was friends with Brett Myers, or Dmitri Young, or Milton Bradley, or Alberto Callaspo, or Kirby Puckett, or Wil Cordero, or Bobby Cox, or the many others with a history of domestic violence?
Domestic abusers have friends, too, you know, and this idea that all criminals are immediately apparent Bad Guys doesn't help advance the conversation -- or move victims of domestic violence toward justice -- one bit. Ortiz might have thought Reyes was a good guy, but given what we now know, it's time to move on from that idea.
Not every single baseball player is going to come to the defense of their friends with the "but he's a good guy" spiel, but you can bet the percentage is at an uncomfortable level. Hell, just knowing Ortiz believes as much is already uncomfortable.
Calcaterra also pointed out this real issue with Ortiz's statements: how it's the kind of thing that keeps society from understanding the severity of the crime:
It’s this sort of thing — the "oh, he’d never do that, I know his heart" stuff — which is what keeps us as a society from taking domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and other behind-closed-doors criminal acts seriously. We take character witnesses like Ortiz seriously when their view of the matter is wholly irrelevant. We allow accused abusers to make self-serving statements about how they are good to their mother and their daughter without much pushback or criticism when such things are meaningless when it comes to the matter of whether or not they committed an act of violence. What’s worse is that we are far more likely to believe such irrelevant things over actual first-hand accounts of victims. Especially when the accused is a celebrity.
Ortiz isn't helping anyone by opening his mouth, except for abusers and those who are on their side. Is what Ortiz said malicious? Ignorant is more likely, and that's why MLB needs to educate its players on domestic violence. It's why the plan is to educate their players on domestic violence.
In August of last year, MLB and the MLB Players Association announced a new domestic violence policy. There will be a treatment plan for domestic abusers that include psychological evaluations, counseling, separation from their victim, and even the relinquishing of any weapons owned by the player in order to ensure the safety of his family and victim(s). The policy also gives the commissioner the ability to suspend players -- even if they are not convicted of domestic violence -- for a length of time of his discretion. His office will investigate all claims of domestic abuse, and punishments will be handed out based on those investigations.
The focus was mostly on that point -- the incredible amount of power the commissioner's office had suddenly gained for domestic violence suspensions, power that the Players Association had agreed to give him. The one that got less attention, though, was MLB's and the MLBPA's plans to educate their players on the matter:
All players will be provided education about domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse in both English and Spanish at regular intervals. Resources to players' families -- including referral information, websites, hotline numbers and outreach facilities -- will be made available, along with a confidential 24-hour helpline.
An annual program of community outreach will be developed. It may include public service announcements featuring players, domestic violence awareness days at ballparks and other activities designed to spread awareness on the issues.
It's this education at regular intervals that has the opportunity to change the views and minds of the players who are in the same boat as Ortiz. Maybe it's too late for Ortiz to understand what was wrong with what he said -- someone would have to challenge him on it and point it out for that to happen, and who knows if anyone will -- but the next generation of players, the ones who aren't a year away from retirement, should be in a better place as far as understanding domestic violence.
That assumes, of course, that MLB provides more than a cursory education for their players, and that these players actually pay attention to the resources provided to them. Like with the punishment that should be coming to Reyes eventually -- likely after his criminal case in Hawaii comes to a close -- this is a start, at least. We'll have a better sense of how MLB plans to handle domestic abusers and the culture that allows them to thrive in a few years, but if Ortiz's comments are any indication, MLB needs to make sure they take this new policy seriously, because a new mindset is necessary.