One thing you learn after a while is that when a guy says someone they know is “a good person,” they are really saying nothing more than “they’re a friend.” In some instances we know that our friends have done bad things but we just can’t bring ourselves to say so. In many others our friendship with them blinds us to the bad things they do or makes us focus on our friends’ end of a bad situation as opposed to someone else’s.
That’s about as charitable as I can get with respect to these comments from David Ortiz, who talked about Jose Reyes, Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig, who are in the crosshairs of Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy at the moment. Asked about this by Bob Nightengale of USA today, Ortiz said:
“These are good guys, I feel so bad for them. I know Jose well. Jose is not a trouble maker. He’s a good guy . . .We’re not perfect. We all make mistakes. That’s no excuse, but people are judging him without knowing everything.”
As, I might add, is Ortiz. He may know Jose well, but he was not in the hotel the night Reyes is alleged to have beat his wife. Those other statements may be true — that people aren’t perfect and we all make mistakes — but they’re non-sequiturs. Ortiz’s friendship with and knowledge of Reyes has no bearing whatsoever on the events in question. And if Reyes did do what he is accused of doing, he is a bad guy. Sorry about that. I realize people don’t like such judgments, but if you beat your wife, you lose the right to be called “a good guy.” Even if you are, otherwise, good in every other way.
But I’m stuck mostly on Ortiz’s comments and how comments similar to his tend to work to discredit victims of domestic violence. It’s this sort of thing — the “oh, he’d never do that, I know his heart” stuff — which is what keeps us as a society from taking domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and other behind-closed-doors criminal acts seriously. We take character witnesses like Ortiz seriously when their view of the matter is wholly irrelevant. We allow accused abusers to make self-serving statements about how they are good to their mother and their daughter without much pushback or criticism when such things are meaningless when it comes to the matter of whether or not they committed an act of violence. What’s worse is that we are far more likely to believe such irrelevant things over actual first-hand accounts of victims. Especially when the accused is a celebrity.
I don’t think that David Ortiz had much if any of this in his head when he made those statements. Ortiz has always said exactly what he felt without any filter and, in some cases, reflection, and I’m sure this is just one of those times. He is friends with Jose Reyes and we say nice and supportive things about our friends when they’re in trouble. We all do this.
But his words should be totally meaningless to us here. David Ortiz’s impression of Jose Reyes makes zero difference to this situation. A stranger to an incident’s vouching for the character of the accused is of almost meaningless weight compared to the actual evidence at hand. We almost always accept this when other sorts of crimes are discussed, but we so often forget it when matters like domestic abuse and, more often, rape are involved.
Let’s not give men accused of such crimes free PR help. Let’s acknowledge that such statements, even from a big famous athlete, are meaningless. And can often serve as distractions or apologia for criminals.