There are some illuminating elements to the coverage of the baseball brawl that occurred a little over a week ago for unpacking reactions to domestic violence. For those not following the baseball news, Carlos Quentin, left fielder for the San Diego Padres, rushed the mound after Zack Greinke, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hit him with a pitch. The two teams then cleared the benches and pitcher Greinke was left with a broken collarbone.
Excusing bad behavior
The commentary after the brawl has been very similar to the troubling reactions generally offered to make sense of domestic violence events. Much of the public reaction has accepted the premise that Greinke did not plan to hit Quentin, but commentators continue to blame Greinke for saying something to Quentin that “caused” him to react the way he did, which to be clear, was to BREAK GREINKE’s COLLARBONE. This same type of excuse for unacceptable behavior is attached to incidents of domestic violence, too. While we might not argue over what horrific act an abuser committed against his partner, the media and public speculate anyway about what she did to trigger his intolerable behavior. Quentin himself, much like men who abuse their romantic partners, also offered an excuse that blamed Greinke for his own broken collarbone.
"Like I said, there is a history there, which is the reason I reacted like I did. Who knows what happens if he doesn't say anything or if he motions that it wasn't intentional?" Quentin said afterwards.
Even my beloved Seattle Mariners’ TV announcers spent time the next day recapping the event and concluded that Greinke shouldn’t have said anything, but spent no time at all questioning whether Quentin should have charged the mound and broken another player’s collarbone. The same thing happens when trying to make sense of domestic violence. So much time is spent on what the victim did or didn’t do, and hardly anyone speculates about why some men are abusive, aggressive, and physically harm others.
Many chalked Quentin’s choice to charge Greinke up to an emotional reaction, as if his paranoia of Greinke hitting him on purpose was justification for his actions. For instance, reporters pointed out that Quentin broke his wrist in 2008 after smashing his hand against his own bat in reaction to striking out. The picture they painted was one of someone who just doesn’t have impulse control. Quentin may very well need help with anger and impulse control, but it should not be used as a response to explain away someone’s bad behavior. One of my favorite Batterer Intervention Program (BIP) specialists, Mark Adams, always tells this story of asking men in his BIP how drunk they would have to be to French kiss their grandmothers. All of them always say it doesn’t matter how drunk they were, they wouldn’t do it. This is Adams’ way of making the point that there is ALWAYS a choice for our behavior, no matter how emotional (or in Adams’ example, drunk) someone might be.
Victim-blaming is pervasive in baseball & domestic violence
Sports Illustrated posited that Greinke was suffering the consequences (a broken collarbone and missing 6 weeks of games) because “he didn’t back down.” To be fair, the article spends a fair amount of time putting the blame on Quentin, but Sports Illustrated can’t help but question Greinke’s role as somehow inviting the batter to pummel him:
“Greinke could have thrown up his hands in the international symbol of, ‘Hey, I wasn't trying to hit you.’ Instead, Greinke seemed to bark nothing more than one or two words at Quentin. Only then did Quentin charge the mound.”
"Zack Greinke is a different kind of guy. Anybody seen Rain Man? He's a very smart guy. He has social anxiety disorder. He doesn't interact well with his team; he doesn't have meals with his teammates. He spends his life studying how to get hitters out.... This is my opinion, and I can't say this publicly, although I guess this is public, so please don't tweet it out. We're in the trust tree here, in the nest. He hit him on purpose, that's what I believe. And then the next thing is, I don't know about you guys, but I'm 6'3", 225. If Carlos Quentin was running at me, I would not put my shoulder down."
Consequences most severe for the victim
Also, like the outcomes of domestic violence, the lasting consequences to the incident impact the victim more than the perpetrator of the violence. In this baseball brawl example, Quentin will be barred from playing in 8 games while Greinke will be unable to pitch for at least 6 weeks. While some public reaction called for stronger disciplinary action for batters who charge the pitcher, the precedent for significant consequences is nonexistent. As long as the responsibility for rushing the mound continues to be minimized, it’s unlikely that there will be a change in the rules. Similarly, the consequences for survivors of abuse are usually much more severe and longer lasting than any sanctions faced by their perpetrators. The impact of abuse on survivors’ lives is seemingly endless (missed work, isolation, decreased self-esteem, physical injuries, PTSD-anxiety-depression, loss of a job, need to move, evictions, judgment by friends and family, etc.) while perpetrators of abuse rarely face consequences and when they do, they are often minimal.
If Quentin truly thinks that the disincentives to (repeatedly) hitting a batter are not sufficient as they currently stand, maybe he could spend sometime lobbying MLB for a change in the consequences. However, given that Quentin said after the brawl, “It's a man's game,'' I have a hard time believing he really is concerned about the rules and was mostly just looking for a justification for his appalling behavior. In sports and in relationships, we need to stop defending, tolerating, and justifying men’s violent behavior.