In Wake of Adrian Peterson, Ex-Met Carl Everett Remembered: A Look at MLB’s Inadequate Child Abuse Policy
While news of Adrian Peterson’s child-abuse offenses continue to ripple through the internet, complete with heartbreaking photos, I remembered a time when a New York Met faced similar charges. It wasn’t so long ago, just 1997, yet it feels like a world away. Let me refresh your memory.
During that summer of ’97, child-care workers in the Mets family room facility at Shea Stadium noticed bruises and welts on Everett’s five-year-old daughter, Shawna. Officials were notified. A call went out to the child-abuse hot line. According to Family Court judge Richard M. Berman, the initial phone call transcript went like this: ”Shawna is covered with bruises, and she is black and blue. She has welts that appear to be sustained from being hit with a belt.”
The Mets organization stood firmly behind Carl Everett. In a moment he might now regret, manager Bobby Valentine publicly questioned the credibility of a report that she was “hit excessively hard on the face.” Commented Jay Horowitz: ”It’s a personal family matter. We’re standing behind Carl and his family.”
Everett continued to play for the Mets without any disciplinary action. Upon Everett’s first start after the allegations, The New York Times reported:
He batted seventh in last night’s game and received a normal response from fans during his first at-bat, with no audible booing. For the game, he was hitless in four at-bats. Asked beforehand if he would be able to concentrate on baseball, he said, ”Of course I can.”
Almost a year later, in a June 29, 1998, Sports Illustrated article, “The People v. Carl Everett,” Grant Wahl added this summation:
Mets officials were alarmed enough to contact the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, which took custody of Shawna as well as Carl IV, Everett’s five-year-old son. Everett and his wife, Linda, were charged in family court with child abuse. Judge Richard Berman ultimately found the couple guilty of child neglect, ruling that Linda had inflicted “excessive corporal punishment” and that her husband had failed to stop her. Shawna and Carl IV were placed in foster care, and Everett — whose wife admitted in court that she and her husband had disciplined the children with a belt — became the center of a New York tabloid storm.
That is, by ruling in this manner, Judge Berman dismissed the more serious charge of child abuse.
EDIT, 9/22: In a comment below,ostensibly made by Judge Berman himself — I can’t confirm his identity, though I believe it to be true — he offered this clarification:
|Your description of the Everett case in 1997 omits several important facts . First, a criminal child abuse prosecution was dropped by the District Attorney not by the Family Court. Second, the Family Court abuse/neglect cae –which is a civil proceeding resulted,soon after the trial began, in the Everetts entering a ” no contest” plea. Under the Family Court Act, the strongest available sentence is removal of the children from their parents care for up to one year. That is the sentence which I imposed, after ordering and reviewing an in depth psychological exam of the Everett family, along with mandatory psychological counseling, parenting skills, and supervised visitation. Richard M. Berman, USDJ.|
For the 1997 season, Everett played in 142 games for the Mets, slashing .248/.308/.420 with 14 HR and 17 SB. He was traded that winter to Houston in exchange for the immortal John Hudek. So that trade represented, in fact, the Mets official response: We don’t need this headache. Houston took it on. MLB did nothing.
As a Mets fan, and father at the time, I followed those events with increasing repulsion. No one in MLB had a response to the charges, it was positioned as a family matter, a legal matter for the courts. Interestingly, at least according to the Times report quoted above, there was no outcry from the fans. My personal take was that Carl Everett was almost certainly a dirtbag. A player I did not like, the creep who stood in RF for the Mets game after game after game.
Should MLB have done more? In the land of innocent-until-proven-guilty, what is the fair and appropriate response? Due process is not something that should be discarded lightly. And as far as I am aware, this isn’t New Zealand or, for that matter, most European countries; it is not illegal in this land of ours to hit your child with a belt. However, you are not allowed to “injure” your child. It’s a murky distinction, a legal minefield, and woefully inadequate.
Everett went on to have a checkered career, filled with a long list of ugly incidents and violent outbursts. Yet in 2005, he helped the Chicago White Sox win the World Series. He’s probably still wearing the diamond-studded championship ring.
In 2007 and 2008, Everett played for the Long Island Ducks, before moving on to the Newark Bears in 2009. As recently as 2011, Everett was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon for putting a gun to his wife’s head. (Yes, Carl was still with lovable Linda, then in their 18th year of marriage.) In September of that same year, in Texas, Carl was arrested for assaulting a family member. And the hits kept coming.
Everett also had rather interesting personal beliefs. He doubted the Apollo Moon Landing, questioning one reporter, “Were you on the moon with him? He may have just gone to the desert and walked on some dried-out dirt.” He also denied the existence of dinosaurs: “God created the sun, the stars, the heavens and the earth, and then made Adam and Eve. The Bible never says anything about dinosaurs. You can’t say there were dinosaurs when you never saw them. Somebody actually saw Adam and Eve eating apples. No one ever saw a Tyrannosaurus rex.”
That’s how bad it is: Even the folks who whip their children with belts are a little bit embarrassed by Carl Everett.
I don’t know that I have much more to add to this. I guess I can reflect on how times have changed. And that maybe, perhaps, we are lurching awkwardly toward something called progress.
I read the other day that during Bud Selig’s time as commissioner of baseball, there have been 18 reported cases of domestic violence and not a single suspension. And until the court of public opinion is heard — or, at least, the big-money advertisers get involved — those in the position of power and responsibility refuse to act. They just keep selling tickets to the show.
Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk wrote a strong piece the other day, leading with a quote from Bud Selig, who has made something of a career out of turning a blind eye (see: steroids, Wilpons, etc.), that he “couldn’t remember the last domestic violence incident” in Major League Baseball.
Using that quote as a jumping-off point, Calcaterra went on to enumerate the long sordid list of domestic violence incidents that Bud Selig could not possibly remember. Many of them quite recent.
I think it’s past time for MLB to do better.
Writes Mike Bates in this post titled, “MLB’s record on domestic violence worse than NFL’s”:
Baseball is a sport that prides itself on being part of the fabric of who we are. It’s the national pastime. It “stands up to cancer.” It swings pink bats on Mothers Day. It’s not enough. One of the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves is that we are better than our rivals. Smarter, stronger, morally superior. Part of being morally superior is actually being moral. Baseball doesn’t currently have a responsibility to police its players off the field, but they absolutely should take on that responsibility, because of how egregiously wrong domestic abuse is and how it runs counter to what a sport predicated on fair play is about.
In response to public backlash — the PC police, some might call it — Selig has been forced into doing something. Officials from MLB and the Player’s Association are meeting with the intent of amending the Basic Agreement with policy to deal with domestic violence. Until now, domestic violence has been dealt with on a case-by-case basis. In other words, there’s been no actual policy. But in a recent statement, Selig admits to sniffing the winds of change:
“I am proud that baseball disciplinary standards have changed over time, as is evidenced by our drug program, to ensure we are handling such situations sensitively and firmly in the manner expected by our fans, while at the same time providing due process to those accused of wrongdoing. We are meeting with the Players Association this week to thoroughly discuss the issue of domestic violence, and how it should be addressed under our Basic Agreement going forward. Domestic violence is one of the one worst forms of societal conduct. We understand the responsibility of baseball to quickly and firmly address off-field conduct by our players, even potentially in situations in which the criminal justice system does not do so.”
Times change. Often the process is ugly, contentious, and disturbing. And yet sometimes, amazingly, small things do change for the better.
I almost typed, “We can only hope.” But no, that won’t suffice. Only hoping isn’t good enough anymore. Maybe the next time a guy like Carl Everett steps to the plate, more of us will stand up and be heard.
I keep coming back to those helpless children. Somehow we’ve got to do better than this.