There is a dark irony in the Houston Astros calling Sports Illustrated "completely irresponsible" for exposing assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s verbal intimidation – at minimum, that’s what it was – of three female reporters as the club celebrated its advancement to the World Series.
The lack of accountability, the refusal to be answerable here belongs strictly to them, not to reporter Stephanie Apstein, who rightfully reported how the executive shouted, "Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so (expletive) glad we got Osuna" half-a dozen times at the women, one of whom was wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet.
To disparage Apstein’s account of the vulgar incident, one since verified by rival media outlets, with a ham-handed statement that accuses SI of attempting to "to fabricate a story where one does not exist" is a reprehensible shirking of responsibility and reassignment of guilt.
That their initial statement came after the Astros initially declined comment to Apstein only underlines how tone deaf the organization is, with one public relations expert speculating that the team must have believed the story would quickly blow over to have approached it that way.
A second attempt at it Tuesday afternoon only came off all the more disingenuous.
Taubman acknowledged using "inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed" and added that "in retrospect, I realize that my comments were unprofessional and inappropriate." Still, he continued to push the absurd narrative that he was trying to be supportive of closer Roberto Osuna, saying his "overexuberance… has been misinterpreted as a demonstration of a regressive attitude about an important social issue."
"Those that know me know that I am a progressive and charitable member of the community, and a loving and committed husband and father," Taubman’s statement continued. "I hope that those who do not know me understand that the Sports Illustrated article does not reflect who I am or my values. I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions."
Astros owner Jim Crane, meanwhile, said the club remains "committed to using our voice to create awareness and support on the issue of domestic violence. We not only ensure mandatory training annually for all of our employees, we have also created an important partnership with the Texas Council on Family Violence, and have raised over $300K through our initiatives to help various agencies providing important support for this cause."
Major League Baseball said it is reserving comment as it investigates the matter.
All of it is too late, as the Astros have already thrown themselves on the wrong side of the discussion on domestic violence and the harassment of women in the workplace, all thanks to Taubman’s needless, crass and demeaning taunts.
If we’re going to talk about irresponsibility, that’s a pretty good place to start.
Still, the power of Apstein’s piece is not only in revealing the appalling actions of the Astros, but raising the much larger issue of how the sports world, and by extension society as a whole, reintegrates people with troubled pasts.
The Astros received considerable criticism for their acquisition of Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays just ahead of the 2018 trade deadline. At the time, the closer was still serving a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s joint domestic violence policy and criminal proceedings against him had yet to be resolved.
An assault charge laid against him by Toronto police on May 7, 2018 was withdrawn on Sept. 25 when Osuna agreed to a peace bond, the Crown telling the court there was no "reasonable prospect" of conviction after the complainant said she wouldn’t testify.
The Blue Jays, understandably, had decided well before then that Osuna wouldn’t be welcomed back into their clubhouse. They found a willing taker in the Astros, who had long sought the right-hander and decided to buy low, sending over fellow closer Ken Giles, also a distressed asset at the time, plus minor-leaguers Hector Perez and David Paulino.
The trade was polarizing in Toronto as well as Houston, given the important role Osuna played on the Blue Jays playoff teams of 2015 and ’16, and his local popularity as a result of it.
The Astros committed to support efforts countering domestic violence after consummating the deal, and they have followed through, as Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle detailed back in May.
Simply writing cheques, however, isn’t enough, and Taubman’s outburst at the group of women suggests a lingering resentment over the criticisms of acquiring Osuna.
At the same time, in an interview back in May, Barbara MacQuarrie, community director for Western’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, argued that ostracizing perpetrators of domestic violence is counterproductive for a number of reasons.
First and foremost among them is that it means missing an opportunity for rehabilitation.
"I mean, what do we think is going to happen to that person? They’re not walking off the face of the earth, they’re still part of our communities," said MacQuarrie, who specializes in the impacts of domestic violence in the workplace. "Just getting rid of the person is avoiding the problem, essentially, right?"
Wrestling with that dilemma is at the crux of the matter.
Even though he wasn’t convicted in court, Major League Baseball deemed that Osuna’s actions leading to his arrest warranted a 75-game suspension, among the most severe handed out under the domestic violence policy. He served that and terms of his peace bond, and by all legal standards, is entitled to return to work.
The moral standards are much murkier and the Astros waded into the grey when they chose to trade for Osuna. In doing so, they also acquired all the deserved scrutiny and criticism inherent to such an addition.
Taubman’s abhorrent actions and the club’s callous initial reaction to the incident demonstrate that even a year and half onwards, they refuse to accept that.