Earlier this week, Cee Angi wrote that Major League Baseball still doesn't understand women. On cue, Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus provided a perfect example as to how Major League Baseball remains clueless as to how to reach out to 47 percent of its fanbase. People -- or at least one person -- within the game still think that this is a funny joke:
There are few things less funny than an old fashioned wife-beating joke. Jackie Gleason is, after all, long dead.
Meanwhile, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime" and "an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year." In the face of the overwhelming horror of violence against women in America, Ausmus's joke is hideous, and to his credit, he seemed to realize that. He backtracked almost immediately, saying "I didn't want to make light of battered women. I didn't mean to make light of that, so I apologize for that if that offended anyone." I'm sure the husband and father of two daughters had some apologizing to do at home as well.
That said, I think this might be an overreaction:
I can't imagine what kind of psychopath you have to be to even *think* about joking about beating your wife.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 19, 2014
Ausmus is not a psychopath any more than actor Jonah Hill was when, earlier this month, he told a paparazzi photographer to "Suck my dick, you faggot." People, even decent people, make mistakes at stressful moments and say stupid things. That is not an excuse. Let's be clear: what Ausmus (and Hill) said was wrong. Jokes shouldn't get passes because they get laughs or because we don't mean them. Nor does the fact that people laugh excuse the rotten foundation on which that joke was based -- just because someone else said something reprehensible doesn't give the listener permission to enjoy something that degrades another human being. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." More importantly, it's an indictment of our culture, which so readily thinks of ways to make the beating of women into a quip that seems to land so well in Ausmus's press conference.
Context absolutely matters for any joke. Anthony Jeselnik is a tremendous comedian who, over the years, has crafted an onstage persona that is awful. The jokes that persona makes, about cancer, death, and so on, are funny primarily because they highlight how awful his character is, and subtly indict whoever is laughing with him. Ausmus, meanwhile, made his joke in his capacity as manager of the Detroit Tigers (a club whose first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, was arrested for domestic abuse in 2009) at a news conference. The Ivy League-educated Ausmus's job carries the responsibility to speak to the media and Tigers fans with care.
Ausmus has shown enough self-awareness to know that what he said was wrong. He's not a monster or a "psychopath." I don't want him fired. I don't want him suspended. Hell, I don't even care if he's fined. What I want is for the charismatic and whip-smart Brad Ausmus to take control of the issue and to turn it from something awful into something much, much better.
After Hill screamed at his photographer, he made as good a choice as his obscenities were bad. Instead of going on the defensive, Hill went on what was one of the most open and seemingly heartfelt apology tours ever, accepting responsibility for his choice of words and encouraging others to use him as an example of what not to do. His honesty was refreshing and provided a chance to talk about why we choose the words we do, and what effect we're trying to have with them. It provided Hill with an opportunity to talk about his laudable beliefs and support for LGBTQ people, while also unequivocally condemning his behavior.
Similarly, Ausmus has that same opportunity, and the ability, to apologize fully and speak candidly about why he chose the words he did, how and why he believes they're inappropriate, and to talk about the issue of domestic violence in a way that makes it clear that it isn't a joke. He can donate his time, energy, and money to help battered women in the Detroit area, to demonstrate the importance of this issue and to encourage others to do likewise. Give those women and groups the platform that they need and deserve. Consider it penance to atone for his thoughtless words. If he's really sorry, he will make amends and show that Baseball understands one of the best ways to reach out to female fans is to not turn their suffering into a joke.