Sport is typically utilized by many as an escape from reality. For most, the team logo can do no wrong and it's safe to blindly throw loyalty behind it.
As times change, so to does society's collective morality and code of ethics. We have learned through test cases in recent years, however, that sports franchises aren't as quick to evolve.
It's at this crossroads that the Baltimore Ravens found themselves at in 2014 with running back Ray Rice, who was caught on camera brutally assaulting his then fiancee in an elevator. The NFL levied a whole two-game suspension before the court of public opinion altered the verdict to an indefinite suspension.
The Dallas Cowboys then found themselves under similar scrutiny upon signing defensive end Greg Hardy, who was found guilty of domestic abuse in 2014. “America's team” weathered a firestorm of public ire as a result, and the Cowboys chose not to resign at the season's end.
There have been other instances of accused abusers continuing to remain gainfully employed since then. There’s Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, boxer Floyd Mayweather, and plenty others that may or may not surprise you. The one common theme of them all is that there is a proportional ratio in regards to talent vs acceptable malfeasance threshold. The more talented you are, the more willing a team -- despite its fan base’s majority stance -- is willing to take a chance on you, despite being a despicable human being.
The Houston Astros took one of those very chances on Monday by trading maligned relief pitcher Ken Giles and prospects to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roberto Osuna. Osuna, who looks to compete for the Astros closer role, is currently serving the tail end of a 75-game suspension that was handed down after a domestic violence incident in May. He will be eligible to play Aug. 5. The move has suddenly taken an issue that Houston fans have been able to casually observe and remark upon from a distance and dropped it right in their lap.
Astros-mania, following their 2017 World Series victory, is at an all time high. The stadium is fuller, the lines are longer, and orange shirts and jerseys have become far more prevalent in day-to-day passing. Now new fans and old alike are found in the same predicament: remain loyal to their team logo, or admit that maybe their team shouldn’t hitch their wagon to anything that remotely insinuates a lackadaisical stance regarding premiere athletes physically abusing women.
The issue is no longer one that can be debated from a safe distance. Houston fans were quick to point at the failings of the Cowboys organization for their signing of Hardy. Now that an almost identical situation has been set at the Astros’ doorstep -- on their own volition -- suddenly those same fans have taken a much softer approach.
“Innocent until proven guilty.”
“The front office did their research.”
These are real statements that have been tossed out in order to allow fans to put their ear muffs on and continue blindly watching their team while a massive black eye encircles Minute Maid Park. That type of hypocrisy based on proximity is absolutely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Winning is important. But winning at the expense of conscience and credibility is worth taking pause over.
You can remain a good, moral human being and still enjoy your Astros. That’s entirely possible and acceptable. In doing so, however, it’s imperative to recognize that no win total or trophy can or should serve as a placeholder for an ethical approach to team-building. Root for your team, but also acknowledge that this move was a mistake, no matter how good Osuna is.
He may turn out great. For all anyone knows, he may be the one piece that moves Houston over the edge this season en route to another World Series victory. If that moment comes to pass, I will certainly be elated. Nothing Osuna accomplishes on a baseball diamond, however, will alter my opinion of him or cause me to defend any of his actions. Develop or maintain a zero tolerance threshold for domestic violence and do not defend a woman beater simply because he joined your favorite team.