“You don’t always get to choose your teammates,” New York Yankees reliever Zack Britton told the media in Tampa last week.
The teammate he was denouncing is starting pitcher Domingo German, who missed last season (and the end of 2019) while serving a suspension under the MLB’s domestic violence policy.
He was asked if German owes him (and the rest of the Yankees clubhouse) an apology for his behavior, and Britton was extremely candid in his response, which further proved there’s a disconnect when it comes to the right-hander’s return to the team.
Then, Britton called out some haters on Twitter who didn’t agree with what he said.
The remarks reflect well on Britton’s character. Athletes often keep their responses to such subjects generic and simple. They “shut up and play,” so to speak.
But while Britton’s clear stand on the issue of domestic violence is admirable, another part of his statement gave me pause. Britton was specifically asked whether he felt German owed the team an explanation or promises about his future conduct.
To this he said, “(German) doesn’t owe me anything. I think that’s something that he’s going to have to deal with on his own and make better choices going forward.”
Perhaps Britton meant that this was not about him or the Yankees, but about German’s partner and others close to him. That selflessness is a good impulse, but it misses a key question. What if German’s relationship with his teammates and his relationship with his partner are inseparable?
To be clear I don’t mean this as a critique of Britton. He gave a thoughtful answer to a live question, making good use of his platform as a public figure. But I also find Britton’s answer speaks to what’s wrong with MLB’s approach to domestic violence in general.
MLB responds to domestic violence accusations through investigations and suspensions. This treats domestic violence, much as Britton described it in his quick statement, as “bad choices” for which players need to be held accountable within the scope of the league.
But domestic violence is more than just a “bad choice.” In many instances, it’s the mindset that allows one to carry out such physical force in the first place. In the case of male abusers, extreme jealously, and a belief in maintaining a traditional, male-dominated household are key driving forces for the behavior.
Whether you believe German deserves a second chance or not, one thing we can surely agree on is that implicit in his getting a second chance is the expectation that he change his behavior. But how can we be sure he’s doing that, when the “behavior” in question could very well be a mindset, not just one individual, horrible incident?
I suspect some Yankees will treat German as if nothing had happened. Others, perhaps Britton, may offer him the cold shoulder. Both approaches can be rationalized, but neither addresses or challenges German to be better or make overarching amends. For that to change, the discussion simply needs to be open and at the forefront of other social issues, considering we have recently seen incidents involving Jose Reyes, Roberto Osuna, Julio Urias, Addison Russell, Steven Wright, Odubel Herrera, and, of course, Aroldis Chapman.
For a deeper policy analysis on MLB’s handling of domestic violence, I suggest reading this piece by lawyer and baseball journalist Sheryl Ring.
And though baseball is moving toward a more inclusive workplace, it’s still an all-male world. Sexual harassment and misconduct allegations have already rocked the sport this offseason with former Mets GM Jared Porter being fired for his behavior and female reporters Alanna Rizzo and Britt Ghiroli coming forward with troubling stories of their own.
As a baseball fan, it’s good to know that at least one of the players I’m rooting for in Britton is candid and thoughtful, on and off the field. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that German’s story is not really about baseball: it’s about a woman who has suffered. That’s not a wrong that can be righted by a mere suspension, or by individual Yankees saying the right thing. It can, however, begin to be addressed, if German is able to open up to his teammates, and the world; to speak to what drove his past behavior, and how he is working to unlearn it.