So this story definitely starts in October 2015, not Sunday.
It was nine months ago that Aroldis Chapman, a man strong enough to throw the fastest pitch in Major League Baseball history twice, decided that he was so irritated by his girlfriend that he needed to take matters, and her neck, and his gun, into his own freakishly powerful hands. That’s the story police heard from Cristina Barnea when they responded to a domestic abuse call at Chapman’s Florida home. The two of them got into an argument in the garage, and things escalated to the point where Chapman pushed Barnea against a wall, put his hands around her neck, and fired eight shots into the wall. Police showed up and took widely differing statements from each party. Ultimately, neither of them agreed to cooperate with the investigation, so no charges were filed against the pitcher. (Chapman couldn’t exactly dance around the eight gunshots he put in his garage wall, but apparently that’s not a crime in Davie, Florida. The police also forgot to Mirandize him before getting his statement, so he would have gotten off anyway. Florida’s gonna Florida.)
Later that offseason, Barnea’s trauma turned into the New York Yankees’ gain. Predicting that Chapman would be suspended under the MLB’s new domestic abuse policy, which itself was an overdue correction to decades of egregious insouciance on domestic abuse, the team was able to sign the flamethrower for a discount. But an insane bullpen couldn’t keep the Yanks from sucking, and near the trade deadline, they dealt him. Having avoided time in unpleasant confines, Chapman set up a few weeks ago in the friendly confines of the Chicago Cubs — a team who may be very good right now but will find a way to blow it in October, believe me, I’m from Chicago, go Sox.
That brings us to Sunday afternoon. As Chapman walked off the mound following a clean inning of work, the Cubs’ PA system started playing a song. An inappropriate song.
It was “Smack My Bitch Up” by The Prodigy, a 90s techno group made up of three of the vampires from the opening scene of Blade. What were the Cubs thinking? A more offensive sound had not been heard at Wrigley since Jay Cutler lude’d his way through “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” The story got picked up pretty quickly, and the takes were predictably blazing. The Cubs were taking heat, so they had to do something. On Monday, the team announced they had fired the “DJ” responsible for the song selection.
I’d like to extend my invitation for this DJ to come join us on the South Side. We’ll set you up nice, and I guarantee you’ll still be the classiest person in the stadium. Because though it was The Prodigy’s music that Aroldis Chapman heard on Sunday, it was you who served him the lone comeuppance he has seen in public since he decided to beat his girlfriend.
Sports media reacted to the stunt by focusing on the poor taste of the “joke.” Few of them seemed interested in the fact that had this admittedly problematic song not played at Wrigley, it’s likely that Chapman would never have faced another reference to his abuse in a team context. It figures as much, given that Major League Baseball has been so notoriously hidebound on this issue that “Smack My Bitch Up” happened to be the title of a Deadspin article from eight years ago imploring the league to punish domestic abusers. It took the Ray Rice brouhaha to finally get a new policy in place, but hey, it’s progress.
Playing “Smack My Bitch Up” at a ballgame is a bold call-out, but at least it reifies the true tastelessness of coming pretty damn close to killing his girlfriend. The joke here was on Aroldis Chapman. Or maybe it was on the Cubs, the team who continues to employ him while paying lip service to a family-friendly product. Or maybe it was on the calculus of professional sports, where the same scarcity of talent that warrants a guy like Chapman getting $11 million to throw a ball also compels teams to make a deal with the devil. Maybe the joke was on us for tolerating it.
“You don’t turn down a talent like this,” said Fox Sports’ CJ Nitkowski in response to the question of whether it was hypocritical of the Cubs to fire the sound man while still employing a domestic abuser. “If he’s allowed to play major league baseball, you go ahead and do it.” We see the same acquiescence in pretty much every sport. Until recently there really hasn’t been much outcry to do something about it. Hell, guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston are still respected team leaders.
But it’s always awkward for us outside the sports world to swallow the lionization of men who in any other venue of society would be shunned. It’s worse when the teams that employ them continually make Pharisee efforts to emphasize how wholesome they are. In football, for example, the league still punishes marijuana offenders harshly while shooting them full of addictive painkillers — and while employing the largest share of domestic abusers of any American sport. MLB’s not as bad, but the principle holds.
Is the wrong guy still working for the Chicago Cubs? It depends on where your priorities lie. If you need to win ballgames, you don’t have a choice about whether you use the services of one of the game’s best closers. To normal people, it stings to watch a team defend the honor of a guy who has never admitted wrongdoing or expressed contrition. Unless you’re one of the people trying to put your fingers in your ears and pretend Aroldis Chapman is worthy of being a leader on your team, I can’t see how “Smack My Bitch Up” would sound like anything but a sorely needed call-out.