The XX Factor

Can Donating to Charity Assuage Cubs Fans’ Guilt About Rooting for Aroldis Chapman?

Relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman on July 26, 2016.

Jon Durr/Getty Images

Sports fans who don’t want to support abusive men have long had to make ethical compromises to stand by their favorite teams. With the Chicago Cubs on their way to their first World Series in 71 years, fans concerned about relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman’s history of domestic violence are trying to channel their conflicted feelings into good works.

The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908, making their fan base desperate for a win this year. The team acquired Chapman, the hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball by far, from the New York Yankees midway through the season; he’s a major reason why the Cubs are the closest they’ve been to a championship title in seven decades. According to a police report from almost exactly a year ago, he also once fired eight gunshots in his garage while his girlfriend hid in the bushes, after allegedly choking her and pushing her into a wall.

In August, Cubs lover Caitlin Swieca told the New York Times that she faced a “moral dilemma” between “the feeling of wanting to just watch a game and not let the domestic violence thing bother you, and the feeling of not wanting to let the domestic violence issue just fade into the background.” She decided to donate $10 to an advocacy organization for survivors of domestic violence every time Chapman recorded a “save.”

In association with Chicago’s Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, Swieca is urging others to join her fundraising efforts, using the hashtag #pitchin4DV. She started out intending to raise $11,000, 0.1 percent of Chapman’s yearly pay, but donors surpassed that goal so quickly that it was raised to $25,000. Supporters have contributed nearly $20,000 so far.

Many Cubs followers have responded with gratitude to Swieca’s scheme, which will probably do more tangible good than any individual’s boycott of Major League Baseball would. One woman decided to auction off her Cubs paraphernalia to raise more money for the DVLC. “I could be petty and cut these things into pieces, but I’d rather raise money for a good cause,” she tweeted. Another fan thanked Swieca for coming up with a plan that let him enjoy the season in spite of Chapman’s place on the roster. Someone who follows the Yankees has promised to donate money for every save Chapman recorded in his few months on that team. After the Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in a blowout on Saturday night, propelling them to the World Series, Swieca encouraged followers of the pitchin4DV Twitter account to donate in honor of the big win, even though Chapman didn’t technically earn a save.

Chapman served a 30-game suspension without pay under the league’s domestic violence policy, costing him about one-sixth of his annual salary. He was never charged with a crime, but the way he’s diminished his episode of violence has alarmed observers. The Spanish-speaking pitcher, who communicates through an interpreter, has claimed he was too tired to remember what was said during his one conversation with Cubs officials about the incident, and he has said the press “made a small thing into a scandal.” “Sometimes a person just wants to move on, forget things, continue their career,” he said. “They want to go back. I just want to go forward.” Major League Baseball didn’t investigate or make mention of Chapman’s alleged domestic assault until Yahoo reported the details. The league only demanded that he attend one counseling session and give two interviews to a psychologist, leading some to question its commitment to an abuse-free culture.

Chapman’s is just one of several cases of violence against women Chicago sports fans have had to confront in recent seasons. According to the Times, that may be one reason why it’s causing long-suffering Cubs followers so much agita:

The issue may resonate more in Chicago than in other cities because it has been a recurring one with prominent athletes here. The Blackhawks star Patrick Kane was named the NHL’s reigning most valuable player in June less than a year after he was cleared of rape charges in a polarizing case. Derrick Rose, the former Bulls star, has been accused of coercing a former girlfriend into group sex, which he denies. Last year, the Bears signed Ray McDonald—who had been cut by San Francisco after a series of domestic violence episodes—only to release him two months later after he was arrested after another such event. [Note: Rose was later found “not liable.”] 

But the particular circumstances of the Cubs—the team’s 108 years without a World Series win, its dependence on Chapman to come in and nail the last few outs in a close game—make Chapman the most gut-twisting character of them all. To root for the Cubs right now is to root for the fulfillment of a century-long dream; it’s also to boost the career of a man who’s shown no remorse for shooting a gun to threaten his girlfriend. Swieca’s voluntary anti–domestic-violence tax will help assuage the guilt of decent-minded fans who want their grandparents to see the Cubs triumph before they die. It won’t keep Chapman from abusing women, but it may help women get justice against men like him who aren’t famous enough to inspire citywide outrage.