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Should fans accept Jose Reyes? Domestic violence experts weigh in

Domestic violence counselors weigh in on the Jose Reyes controversy and how fans should respond to his return to the major leagues.

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The promise of self-driving cars has given ethicists a question with which to grapple: If one of these autonomous vehicles is headed for a fatal collision, should it be programmed to kill as few people as possible or to save the driver no matter what? A 2015 study by the Toulouse School of Economics returned unsurprising results. “We found that participants…approved of utilitarian AVs (that sacrifice their passengers for the greater good), and would like others to buy them; but they would themselves prefer to ride in AVs that protect their passengers at all costs,” it reads.

This is essentially how a lot of people feel about Jose Reyes. If you believe in second chances, whether for the benefit of the victim or for the perpetrator, you likely approve of his being allowed to play baseball again now that he has finished his 52-game suspension for allegedly grabbing his wife, Katherine Ramirez, on Oct. 31 during a vacation to Hawaii. You just don't want him getting that second chance with your team.

Domestic-violence experts are largely in agreement that zero-tolerance policies, while they might feel satisfying, create bad incentives for all involved. Victims have to add ending the livelihood of someone they may depend on to their list of fears . . . and that’s not lost on the attackers, either.

“A woman is more likely to be fatally injured if you’ve got a one-strike-you’re-out policy,” says Katie Hnida, who, as a placekicker at New Mexico in 2003, became the first woman to score in Division I football and is now an anti-violence advocate who works with MLB and college teams. “If she calls 911, the athlete has a lot to lose at that moment.”

Even other athletes can hesitate to reach out if they know a career is at stake. According to Katherine Redmond Brown, the founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Atheltes, a teammate who knows what's going on may be thinking, “He needs help, but I don’t want him off the team.”

Then there is the issue of redemption. Domestic violence is unacceptable. Choking is especially dangerous—one study found that a woman is seven times more likely to be killed by her intimate partner if he has tried to strangle her in the past. (Reyes, 33, was charged with abuse of a family member, but a judge dismissed the case in April because Ramirez declined to cooperate. Prosecutors have until November 2017 to re-present. Under its new domestic-violence policy, ​MLB imposed the suspension, which Reyes did not appeal, based on its own investigation and included a $100,000 donation to a domestic-abuse charity and ongoing counseling among its conditions.) But if the abuser makes a real effort to change, shouldn’t we encourage rehabilitation?


“It’s so important for us to remember that we should always be condemning the act,” Hnida says. “There is a point at which you need to condemn the perpetrator, but we need to give them a second shot.”

Of course, it helps if the perpetrator is good at sports. Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice committed a terrible crime, knocking his then-fiancée out cold in February 2014, but he has been unemployable in the NFL ever since in part because his rushing yards fell by 40% from 2012 to '13. (He was also caught on video; no images have been released of Reyes’s alleged assault.) ​After an All-Pro year in 2013 with the Panthers, defensive end Greg Hardy threw his girlfriend across a room, tried to strangle her and threatened to kill her; he missed all but one game of the 2014 season while placed on the commissioner's exempt list as his case played out. In March 2015 the Cowboys signed him for $11.3 million.

The Mets, in need of a third baseman after David Wright's latest injury, signed four-time All-Star Reyes two weeks ago to play that position because “we think he can help us,” said GM Sandy Alderson at the time. And indeed he has, with a home run and two doubles in his first three games back with the team that signed him from the Dominican Republic in 1999 as a teenager.

Reyes seemed to take some responsibility for his behavior in his first press conference back, saying, “I’m sorry. I apologized to a lot of people…I know there are some people who are going to hate me. I put myself in this situation.”

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Mets third base coach Tim Teufel, one of the few members of the coaching staff who remains from Reyes’s last stint in New York, from 2003 through '11, insists that Reyes deserves an opportunity to be better. It’s easy to think that in the abstract, he says, but the Mets have a chance to prove it.

“It’s in front of us,” Teufel says. “Either we believe in it or we don’t and I think the organization has proven we believe in it. The words he’s spoken are genuine and from the heart. He’s doing this the right way and we’re ready to accept him as a New York Met.”

It hasn’t been quite so clear-cut for fans. "Domestic violence kills thousands of women every year and it's time professional sports actually takes it seriously. The Mets should be ashamed,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Speaker of the New York City Council, in a statement after the signing was announced.

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“What he did during the offseason is none of my personal business,” a fan named Joe Devine told the New York Daily News earlier in the week. “If he beat on his wife, none of my personal business. He wants to play baseball, let him play baseball. If he can hit, fine.”

And the chorus of “Jose, Jose” was so loud that Reyes doffed his helmet during his first at bat, an occasion the Daily News marked with the back-page headline “CHEERS FOR A WIFE BEATER.”

“The reality is these situations are complicated,” says Hnida. “We feel like we either have to damn him to hell or give him a rousing ovation. It’s one of the most frustrating things about sports.”

So what’s the answer? How do you deal with the cognitive dissonance of wanting him to get his chance, as long as it’s somewhere else?

“You don’t have to call for bad things to happen to him,” says Rita Smith, the former director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence who now advises the NFL on policy development, “but until you know things have changed, all you can do is be silent at when he’s at the plate. And when he does that work, I will give him a standing ovation.”