Mets fans have been presented this pennant race season with something like a moral dilemma, one increasingly common to sports fans today. Specifically, the team has welcomed back former star shortstop Jose Reyes – available for the proverbial song after being cut loose by the Colorado Rockies – and he has responded by bashing the ball with authority, hitting .287/.341/.485 through last night’s action. For a prodigal Met who left for greener free agent pastures after winning the batting title in 2011, and has returned at age 33 humbled by injuries and mediocrity with other teams, this should be a joyous story of baseball redemption.
But the enthusiasm is tempered by the other reason, aside from his poor finish with the Rockies in 2015, why Reyes was available cheap: he was arrested in the offseason for grabbing his wife by the throat and shoving her into a sliding glass door, leaving vivid injuries on her body. It was the first known offense for Reyes, but of course we know from long history that domestic abuse – while it can be a one-time loss of temper – is much more often part of a pattern. Reyes has expressed contrition, and even domestic violence experts are fearful of adopting a scarlet-letter one-strike-you’re-out policy for wife-beaters. But the uncomplicated cheers that Reyes enjoyed in his 2003-11 stint with the Mets are more fraught now.
It’s not a tidy or easy issue. Whether or not athletes are more prone to this sort of thing due to their physical aggressiveness and the stress they face as men whose careers go downhill sharply at an early age, the fact remains that sports leagues have often been stuck dealing with athletes who have committed domestic violence against the women in their lives and been let off fairly easy by the justice system. While it’s tempting to just let the leagues discipline on-field misconduct and leave the rest to the law, these incidents have stuck the leagues with the unpleasant and unaccustomed duty of handling bad behavior totally unrelated to the game. Should fans shun the offenders?
It’s more complicated for Reyes because of his history: the Mets came up with two contrasting home-grown stars in 2003-04, both young, handsome, charismatic and energetic infielders: Reyes and David Wright. They seemed, at the time, a matched set. Wright (who’s white) was nicknamed “Captain America”: consistent, hustling, stoic on the field, reserved in the dugout, but well-spoken with the media – the traditional mold of a team leader. Reyes (who is black and Hispanic) was christened “Profesor Reyes” in scoreboard Spanish lessons for the fans – a more voluble and emotional on-field presence than Wright, but also more variable from day to day and more shy with reporters (as English-as-a-second-language players often are). Maybe that put too many expectations on both of them to be archetypes, but the fans’ love for both of them in their own styles was genuine. Wright stayed in New York, kept the faith, and has soldiered on even to last year’s World Series run through debilitating back injuries, while Reyes wandered in Florida, Toronto and Colorado.
Greater and lesser dilemmas of this nature have faced fans of sports and entertainment stars like O.J. Simpson, Kirby Puckett, Joe Paterno. and Bill Cosby, all of whom seemed like upstanding figures for their public postures until their darker sides came into view. There’s no simple answer, except to recognize that heroes in one walk of life may not be role models. Cheering for them after learning the truth is not the simple joy it once was.