American sports have a proud history of being in the vanguard of social change. Jackie Robinson, Muhammed Ali, and Bille Jean King were among the athletes who used their platform and prominence to advance a cause.
But sadly, when it comes to ridding itself of allegedly abusive men, sports is trailing the world of business, entertainment, and even politics.
Yesterday (July 30), baseball’s Houston Astros—the defending World Series champions—acquired pitcher Roberto Osuna in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Osuna was arrested for assault May 8, and while the Toronto Police didn’t reveal details about the nature of his attack or victim, Major League Baseball suspended him for 75 games according to its domestic violence policy.
The Blue Jays were reportedly eager to wash their hands of Osuna, and while other teams passed, the Astros were willing to take him and his baggage. In a statement, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said the team did its due diligence. “We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind,” he said.
Baseball has been here before. In 2015, the Yankees traded for Aroldis Chapman, accused of choking a girlfriend and firing a weapon in their home. The cubs traded for Chapman a year later, and eventually the Yankees signed him to a lucrative multi-year deal. The Mets acquired Jose Reyes after he allegedly attacked his wife, sending her to the emergency room. There are others.
It’s a problem that is not limited to baseball: Pro football has a lamentable history of employing players accused of abuse and assault. In one high-profile case, quarterback Jameis Winston—accused of rape while in college—was given a three-game suspension for groping an Uber driver, a lighter punishment than he could receive from some teams for kneeling during the national anthem.
Pro sports’ continued willingness to employ men with a history of violence toward women is a sharp contrast to the corporate world, where dozens of businesses have removed executives accused of assault, harassment, and inappropriate conduct. In some cases, like those of Harvey Weinstein and Steve Wynn, the men were the founders and faces of their companies. Others, like those of Intel’s Brian Krzanich or SoFi’s Mike Cagney, involved CEOs who were leading companies through critical periods of growth or transition. Removing these men was not without cost—Intel’s shares fell 2.5% when Krzanich was fired after an investigation into a consensual, but prohibited, relationship.
To be sure, companies have business motivations for their actions: They’re signaling to customers, investors, employees—and critically—future employees that they’re serious about providing a safe work environment.
Pro sports teams have no such stakeholders. They rarely have outside investors, and their key employees are contractually locked in place. In sports, the voices that matter are those of the fans, and history has shown that as long as team puts a winning product on the field, the fans will continue to show up.