Aditi Kinkhabwala
Thursday May 31st, 2007

Elijah Dukes hit a home run on Wednesday. I suppose I'm expected to be happy he didn't hit a woman. Honestly, I want to know why Dukes gets to hit anything these days.

It's been a week since the St. Petersburg Times reported that the Tampa Bay rookie outfielder sent a photo of a gun to the cell phone of his estranged wife, NiShea Gilbert. She played the newspaper a voicemail message in which Dukes reportedly said, "You dead, dawg...Your kids too."

Four times before, deputies have been summoned to break up domestic disputes at the Dukes' home. Gilbert twice filed requests for protection against him. He stormed the middle school where she teaches on April 30 and it took the principal and a deputy to subdue him -- and get him away from all those middle school kids. If that is indeed Dukes talking on the voicemail (he hasn't denied it), those are his kids he's threatening.

Albert Belle, Dante Bichette, Chili Davis. Jose Canseco, Pedro Astacio, Wil Cordero, Julio Lugo and on and on it goes. There are arrests, charges, convictions and pleas. Some domestic battery, some domestic abuse, a whole lot ignored. For a decade now studies have showed us that male athletes have a greater propensity for violent behavior than men who don't play sports. Studies have also shown that male athletes are more likely to be aggressive with the women they date, and more tolerant of demeaning behavior toward women.

We've accepted that some athletes have difficulty distinguishing between the rules on the field and rules at home, and that many athletes operate under a warped set of boundaries. But why, when we get so riled up about misbehavior that affects our games (like taking steroids), are we so forgiving of misbehavior against women?

Barry Bonds is being demonized on his home run chase. Where was all this indignation 14 years ago, when Bonds was arrested for grabbing his wife around the neck, throwing her at a car and then allegedly kicking her while she was on the ground? (The charges were dropped after Bonds' wife refused to cooperate with prosecutors. The couple later divorced.) UMass professor Todd Crossett, the author of one of those pioneering studies, says it's the difference between "crimes against sport," and regular old crime. Our trust is broken by the first because the effort's no longer honest, Crossett says. And we're indifferent, he says, to the second.

Well, Dukes has a string of the second. And I'm sick of the indifference.

Two of the four women Dukes has children with have charged him with domestic violence. So has another girlfriend. The 22-year-old has been arrested six times, charged with battery twice. A judge on Tuesday decided that Gilbert needed a restraining order (the third time a woman's put one on Dukes), and on Wednesday, that Dukes needed to undergo psychiatric evaluation before he is allowed to see the couple's two children. The Devil Rays haven't ever disciplined him. He was suspended in Triple-A last year for 30 games -- for confrontations with a teammate and a coach. Good thing they weren't women, right?

Dukes sat the first two games after his threats came to light. The third game he hit a three-run home run. He's a five-tool stud and so he plays on, not denying the allegations, promising the smattering of Tropicana Field fans who booed him this week "will get over it." They can't. Not when it's the whole league's problem.

On May 5, Seattle reliever Julio Mateo allegedly hit, choked and bit his wife in a New York hotel. Five days after that, Arizona utilityman Alberto Callaspo was arrested for allegedly beating his wife. That was just a week after Callaspo cut the side of his wife's face with a knife and slammed their 17-month old son against a headboard of a bed.

The Mariners demoted Mateo, suspended him without pay for 10 days and now have him on the inactive list while he undergoes counseling. Arizona tried the same, but the players union balked and Callaspos is playing right now.

Phillies pitcher Brett Myers kept playing too last August, trotting out to the mound just hours after horrified witnesses saw him drag his wife, by her hair, on a crowded Boston street. Kim Myers bailed her husband out of jail that night and she refused to press charges, but she did somehow get her husband to see he needed counseling. And he asked for -- and got -- a paid leave of absence for it from the Phillies. These days, Myers is declaring himself a changed man.

We can't count on Dukes to want that himself. And no, Gilbert isn't forcing any hands since she hasn't pressed any charges against Dukes. (A cynic says it's hard to turn your back on being a ballplayer's wife. A realist says there's child support money to think of.)

What Major League Baseball needs to do is step up to the plate. Look at the Myers' experience, follow Seattle's lead, and require all credible domestic battery charges to be met with a suspension and mandatory counseling.

Bud Selig, quit worrying about Jason Giambi's honesty and get Elijah Dukes in your office. Don Fehr, quit playing enabler and get your players help. As for all the rest of us, we need to start paying attention to hits -- the ones off the field.

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