How to process the complicated ugliness of Jose Reyes

Jose Reyes
(Getty Images)

The ovation emanating from Citi Field on Tuesday night felt gross, dirty, unseemly. New York Mets fans stood and cheered and clapped and whistled and held signs welcoming Jose Reyes’ return to the franchise where he started his career. And Reyes, back in the major leagues eight months after he allegedly choked his wife and shoved her into a glass door at a Hawaiian resort, back with a team that chose to sign an alleged abuser fully understanding the message it sends, doffed his batting helmet, smiled and sponged in the adoration.

“It feels,” Reyes said before the game, “like I’m home.”

I had figured this was coming. If society’s understanding of the ills and evils of domestic violence remains in its infancy, sports is in a protoplasmic stage, still trying to grow and understand the implications of its actions as well as the complications of the resulting decisions. I’m just as guilty. Ever since Reyes signed with the Mets less than two weeks ago, I’ve vacillated between rationalization and anger, trying to understand how any team would ever bother with a player accused of such heinous actions while recognizing the charges against Reyes were dropped and he served the 51-game suspension that cost him nearly $7 million.

And still. The punishment felt wholly unsatisfactory, like something was missing, and that only grew as Reyes was feted upon his return. Let’s be very clear: Jose Reyes is not the prodigal son. He will not find redemption via a Mets uniform. Whatever on-field triumphs may come neither mitigate nor erase his actions, which include allegedly leaving bruises on the neck, thigh and wrist of the mother of his three daughters only to see her refuse to press charges. Contusions disappear with time; the wounds they cause inside a woman haunt her forever.

These facts are absolute and indisputable, and they are a healthy place to start, because they also don’t instantaneously vilify the Mets, Major League Baseball or Reyes, nor do they excuse the parties. They create the foundation upon which the important questions can be asked. Like: Should Jose Reyes still be playing baseball?

“I look at the audience or the stadium as the bystanders in this,” said Quentin Walcott, an anti-violence activist in New York who for nearly 20 years has run batterers’-intervention programs. “They could play such a huge role outside of the sanctions through their dollars and their response to the player. Sports are more concerned with winning and building empires. And what we do, which can be healthy or unhealthy, is that we separate the person from their skills and abilities. Even Miles Davis. He’s one of the most brilliant musicians and artists ever, but he was one of the most violent in his relationships. We compartmentalize that. But we have to get to the point where the personal is the political.”

It cuts directly at the issue of punishment and penance, of heinous actions and whether they deserve a chance at rehabilitation, of a fundamental conflict that puzzles even someone like Walcott, who has spent his adult life advocating on behalf of the victims of people like Jose Reyes.

“It’s difficult,” said Walcott, who met with MLB as it was drawing up its new domestic-violence protocol. “I wouldn’t do this work if I didn’t believe men can change, if they couldn’t make different decisions about conflict. It needs to be more of a community conversation. It has to come from a place where there aren’t threats or pressure to drop charges. It’s tough to create a sterile, clinical environment when there aren’t pressures from her family or community. It’s very common for them not to proceed with those charges. People think it says something about the severity of the situation. It doesn’t.”

Such nuance is so important here. The dropped charges pardoned Reyes in court but didn’t necessarily absolve his abuse. His wife, like many victims, refused to proceed despite obvious physical evidence. Even if the confirmation of the alleged actions is seemingly clear – Reyes continues to offer apologies, never saying exactly for what but making it rather obvious – no court case could be made, a far-too-frequent occurrence.

“There’s a series of policies to increase arrests nationally,” said Rona Solomon, the deputy director of the Brooklyn-based Center Against Domestic Violence. “That’s how common this is.”

The rare aspect of Reyes’ case involves money and the complications it can cause. Surely the Mets’ desire to win and enjoy the increased ticket sales and playoff revenue made the signing of a past-his-prime 33-year-old more palatable. The millions and millions of dollars Reyes forfeited during his suspension lent gravitas to a punishment as arbitrary as the one handed down by MLB. And in the legal world, money equals privilege, which can cause an entirely different sort of abuse.

“It’s not just black eyes,” Walcott said. “There is psychological, financial and emotional dependency. What does accountability ultimately look like for him? Is it losing his job? Sports figures and entertainers get so many chances the common man doesn’t get. That’s the hard pill to swallow for people and survivors. If this was just a regular guy with a job at Starbucks, he’d be in jail.”

Jose Reyes
(Getty Images)

Jose Reyes went 0 for 4 on Tuesday night, and the questions were more about his place in the Mets’ defensive alignment than what sort of treatment he agreed to when he accepted MLB’s suspension. Is he in a 26-week batterers’-intervention program? Fifty-two weeks? None at all? Is he going to counseling with his wife? His children? Is he learning the behavior that leads to abuse and the scary-high danger of recidivism?

These are the questions that need to be asked of Jose Reyes and answered by him if he wants safe passage back into baseball. This is what a second chance looks like: owning the worst kind of mistake imaginable instead of hiding behind trite apologies. MLB’s domestic-violence policy includes measures for confidentiality, which is understandable, but placing the onus for transparency and growth on the player himself feels like a fair and reasonable standard.

Instead, the closest Reyes came to a make-right was a $100,000 donation to domestic-violence charities. And that’s wonderful. Any money toward a cause as important as the eradication of domestic violence is money well-spent. At the same time, it reinforces the destructive notion of money as a salve, that its presence somehow buys Reyes forgiveness to compete without question.

No. Not now, not ever. It is our responsibility – all of us, from the fans to front offices to the media – to expect more of those who expect their careers back. It is on the fans to separate team from person, victories from life, to save their cheers for those who warrant them. And it is on teams like the New York Mets – a team, by the way, whose COO’s history of allegedly mistreating women gives it little in the way of moral authority – to tell women: Major League Baseball is not a place that harbors abusers. It respects women and values women and wouldn’t dare compromise its integrity for a hit here or a win there. It’s on the media, knowing that these second chances aren’t going away, to ensure they’re truly earned.

Jose Reyes shouldn’t have a job today simply because David Wright’s degenerative back failed. He should have a job because his mistake haunts him, too, and he’s doing everything he can to understand its pathology and yank its roots. Acceptance isn’t an entitlement. Ovations aren’t a given. Redemption can’t be found on a baseball diamond, no matter how good the player, how familiar the face or how infantile the understanding of those who clap their hands when they should know better.