Cubs Fans Root for Aroldis Chapman While Deploring His History

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Caitlin Swieca started a trend when she pledged on Twitter that each time Aroldis Chapman recorded a save, she would donate $10 to a domestic violence victims’ group.

Credit
Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

CHICAGO — As Caitlin Swieca nursed a beer in Wrigley Field’s upper deck on a recent steamy Saturday afternoon, she was hoping — like other Chicago Cubs fans — that her team could hang onto a slim lead against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.

But that same hope also gave her pause.

If the Cubs did hold on, it meant that relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman would very likely be asked to get the final outs.

Chapman, the newly acquired star reliever, is known mostly for two things: a crackling fastball that can reach 105 miles per hour and a domestic violence episode last year in which he fired eight gunshots into a garage wall after an argument with his girlfriend, who was cowering in the bushes outside.

When the Cubs acquired Chapman from the Yankees last month, he was viewed in baseball terms as the final piece for a franchise desperate to win its first World Series since 1908. But the domestic violence episode — along with the fact that Chapman, who was not charged, showed no contrition in his initial interview with the news media here — has left some Cubs fans uncomfortable in rooting for him.

“It’s a moral dilemma,” Swieca said. “There’s definitely two conflicted feelings: the feeling of wanting to just watch a game and not let the domestic violence thing bother you, and the feeling of not wanting to let the domestic violence issue just fade into the background.”

Swieca tried to make peace with that conflict shortly after Chapman’s arrival with a simple act: She pledged on Twitter that each time Chapman recorded a save, she would donate $10 to an organization that aids domestic violence victims. At least then, Swieca said, she might feel better about Chapman’s helping the team.

She soon found out she was not alone. The Domestic Violence Legal Clinic has worked with Swieca, promoting the hashtag #pitchin4DV and an accompanying Twitter account, for which pledges totaling $5,100 have trickled in from around the country to groups supporting domestic violence victims.

The goal is to raise $11,000 — or 0.1 percent of Chapman’s salary — by the end of the season.

“How many times do we read the news and say, ‘It is what it is’?” said Margaret Duval, the executive director of the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic. “Caitlin took the next step. Instead of muttering about it, she’s made people think about what you can do.”

While Chapman and the Yankees initially endured some scrutiny when they acquired him last December, shortly after the domestic violence episode had become public, that had largely dissipated by the time Chapman made his debut in May after serving a 30-game suspension.

But the issue may resonate more in Chicago than in other cities because it has been a recurring one with prominent athletes here. The Blackhawks star Patrick Kane was named the N.H.L.’s reigning most valuable player in June less than a year after he was cleared of rape charges in a polarizing case. Derrick Rose, the former Bulls star, has been accused of coercing a former girlfriend into group sex, which he denies. Last year, the Bears signed Ray McDonald — who had been cut by San Francisco after a series of domestic violence episodes — only to release him two months later after he was arrested after another such event.

Then, as the stir around Chapman’s arrival was beginning to quiet, an in-house disc jockey at Wrigley Field created an uproar when he played the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” after Chapman had pitched. The disc jockey was fired the next day.

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The Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees last month.

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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

“The most important thing is it’s got us all talking,” said Vickie Smith, the executive director of the Illinois Coalition against Domestic Violence. “We’re having conversations about domestic violence — what it is, what’s the impact on the community — taking this far beyond just the activist folks that have been doing this for a long time. It means we don’t have to keep this a huge secret. It’s difficult, complex, and affects us all in different ways.”

That complexity is evident in baseball’s domestic violence policy, which was enacted last August after negotiations with the players’ union, and in Chapman’s case in particular.

Four players have been disciplined under the policy and have received varying suspensions: 30 games for Chapman, 51 for Jose Reyes, 82 for Hector Olivera and an indefinite term for the minor leaguer Danry Vasquez, who was seen on video this month striking his girlfriend. All but Chapman have been released by their teams, though Reyes, who was waived by Colorado, has since been picked up by the Mets, with whom he had a long history.

Since Chapman arrived with the Yankees in spring training, he has consistently portrayed the episode with his girlfriend, Cristina Barnea, as an isolated one. The Cubs and the Yankees each issued statements in which Chapman apologized for his behavior, but only after interviews with the news media in which he refused to admit wrongdoing. When the Cubs acquired Chapman, the team’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, told reporters it had happened only after long internal debate and was contingent on his and the owner Tom Ricketts’s being able to talk to Chapman about the episode before the trade.

But when Chapman was asked about that conversation in his initial interview with the news media, he said he had been too sleepy during the call to remember any details. He also dismissed any interest in working on behalf of domestic violence aid groups.

That drew such an intense response from the news media — and fans — that Chapman refused to answer questions the next day after appearing in his first game. “I was annoyed at the way they treated me when I got here,” Chapman, a native of Cuba, said in Spanish through an interpreter. “They made a small thing into a scandal, so I felt bad. I’ve always faced the press and answered questions, and then they treated me this way. Sometimes a person just wants to move on, forget things, continue their career. They want to go back. I just want to go forward.”

Chapman said moving forward was what he and Barnea, who have a child together, had done. Except for her leaving the night of the episode, Chapman said, “we never broke up; we never separated.” (Indeed, she was traveling with the team on their current West Coast trip.) He was interviewed twice by a psychologist, as mandated by Major League Baseball, and attended a counseling session, he said.

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