An important truth has been lost in the controversy over the way
the Philadelphia Phillies handled pitcher Brett Myers after his
recent arrest for spousal abuse. Mrs. Myers’ injuries and the
accounts of several witnesses leave little reason to doubt her
husband’s culpability. Nevertheless, the Phillies at first
reserved judgment about the case, and allowed Myers to pitch.
was wrong, as the team admitted after widespread criticism,
and Myers was given a leave of absence. However, in many
domestic violence cases the men arrested do deserve the open
mind and support which the Phillies mistakenly extended
Myers. Spousal abuse arrests are often dubious, in part because
of misguided domestic violence laws and law enforcement
police lieutenant Greg Schmidt, who created the Seattle Police
Department's domestic violence investigation unit in 1994, says
that the mandatory arrest laws of most states force police
officers to make arrests "in petty incidents, often where the
abuse is mutual or it is unclear who the aggressor was."
Moreover, Schmidt asserts, the
dominant aggressor doctrine instructs police to downplay who
struck the first blow in a domestic incident, and discourages
dual arrests, which are often an appropriate measure. Instead,
officers are pressured to see men and only men as the offenders.
Spurious spousal abuse accusations
and domestic violence restraining orders are often used as legal
maneuvers in divorce cases. The State Bar of California’s Family
Law Section recently complained that these tactics are
"increasingly being used in family law cases to help one side
jockey for an advantage in child custody." They're "part of the
gamesmanship of divorce," as one attorney recently explained in
the Illinois Bar Journal.
An excellent example of what can
happen to an athlete, or any man, is the saga of another major
league pitcher arrested for spousal abuse--Scott Erickson.
Erickson was arrested after he
called the police during an altercation with his girlfriend in
July of 2002. According to the Associated Press, the Baltimore
police concluded that Erickson's girlfriend Lisa Ortiz:
initiated the fight by hurling objects; decided to come back
twice after Erickson carried her out of the apartment;
repeatedly kicked the apartment door; caused Erickson two minor
injuries, one of them to his pitching arm; and herself suffered
Nonetheless, the police arrested
Erickson under Maryland's mandatory arrest law. Afterwards Ortiz
publicly stated that Erickson, who did not pursue her either
time after carrying her out, "has never been physically abusive
After Erickson’s arrest he was
excoriated by sportswriters and domestic violence activists.
Later, even as a police spokesperson announced that the charges
against Erickson were being dropped, the spokesperson continued
to refer to Ortiz as "the victim." To this day the
influential Family Violence Prevention Fund lists Erickson in
its "Hall of Shame."
In another case, Houston Astros
shortstop Julio Lugo was arrested for a misdemeanor assault on
his wife in April of 2003. Though Lugo maintained his innocence,
the Astros--perhaps acting on the stereotype of Latin men as
wife-beaters--got rid of him within hours of the incident.
However, at Lugo’s trial his wife absolved him of guilt, and he
the charges leveled by the Phillies’ numerous critics, the club
wasn’t wrong in its desire to afford its player the benefit of
the doubt. The problem is that in Myers’ case there is no
doubt. However, the next time an athlete is arrested for
domestic violence, there probably will be. Will the team
involved turn its back on its player because of the precedent
set in the Myers case?
article first appeared in the
Delaware County Daily Times
[Philadelphia], 8/2/06 and the
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
McCormick is the Executive Director of the American Coalition for Fathers and
Children, the world’s largest shared parenting organization.
Glenn Sacks serves on the
advisory board of
for Everyone, an international domestic violence
organization. His columns have appeared in dozens of the largest
newspapers in the United States.