Kris Shannon: When your sporting heroes are villains too

By Kris Shannon

Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman in his first appearance for the Chicago Cubs. Photo / AP
Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman in his first appearance for the Chicago Cubs. Photo / AP

This week my team traded away one of their best players - and I was thrilled.

That feeling was not for the haul of exciting young prospects recouped for the proven veteran, but rather for reasons existing entirely outside the lines.

Because when the New York Yankees sent star closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, it negated the need for the moral gymnastics fans are forced to perform every time he takes the field.

It removed the guilt felt for gleaning enjoyment from wins accrued with Chapman's assistance, and rendered unnecessary attempts to find an answer to that trying question now facing the Cubs: how can you cheer for an athlete who did something terrible?

That's a question with which supporters across the world of sport have wrestled and one hardly limited to Chapman's case. Far too many athletes have acted awfully and returned to action; the erstwhile Yankees pitcher is merely the latest.

To recap, Chapman was accused of trying to choke his partner and, while police eventually declined to file charges due to "a lack of cooperating witness", the Cuban admitted that an argument with his girlfriend ended when he shot a gun eight times into a garage wall.

In such a context the following sounds so flippant, but that created a dilemma for Yankees fans when the team acquired Chapman in the off-season. On one hand, the flame-thrower's fastball can reach speeds of 169km/h. On the other, being able to throw really hard is essentially irrelevant.

Chapman admitted to, at best, intimidating his partner with a deadly weapon. At worst, what he did was far more disgusting. The fact he's still being paid handsomely to play the game he loves is grossly unfair, and the minimum requirement for fans must be refusing to clap when he throws a strike.

And yet, for many, it's far from straightforward. What athletes accomplish on the field is what counts, they argue. What should it matter their misdeeds committed when out of uniform?

Well, first and above all, consider how a victim feels when watching thousands of people root for someone who, in Chapman's case, unloaded a full clip to conclude a heated disagreement.

Then we must remember sporting figures' influence as role models for the next generation, a responsibility that extends to performance when playing, character when encountering the adoring public and, crucially, behaviour when no one is watching.

And, finally, there's the platform we give to perpetrators of serious crimes. Of course offenders should be awarded a chance to make amends, move on with their lives, return to the work force. But should they be showered with fame and fortune? How exactly is that a deterrent to others?

That's especially true in sport, a field where broadcasters and writers applaud an athlete's ability without acknowledging their distasteful past. Or, even more deplorable, cast the offender as the main character in an inspiring tale of redemption.

Neglecting or airbrushing the problem helps no one. In fact, if teams are still willing to employ these players - and, given the monetary value inherent in each and every win, unfortunately they always will be - perhaps we should instead issue constant reminders of when they erred.

Unpleasant, yes, but deliberately so. It would surely achieve more for awareness than any half-hearted donation, likely foisted upon an athlete as a condition for their return.

It would certainly send a better message to young fans than the current all-is-forgiven mentality.

And, lagging well behind those priorities, it would even allow supporters to watch players like Chapman without requiring a cold shower once the final pitch is thrown.

- NZ Herald

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