On Saturday night, after the Astros clinched the pennant to earn their second World Series trip in three years, things got weird in the team’s clubhouse. According to Sports Illustrated, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman started yelling at a group of reporters about the team’s 2018 decision to bring on closer Roberto Osuna. The team had traded for Osuna at a discount, after the pitcher was arrested and suspended following allegations of domestic violence toward the mother of his son. “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so fucking glad we got Osuna!” Taubman yelled at the reporters, who happened to all be women.
Later, NPR reported that Taubman’s outburst was directed primarily at a specific reporter who was wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet, and who had been critical over the past year of the team’s decision to bring in Osuna. He had, according to NPR, complained that she would tweet the number for a domestic violence hotline whenever Osuna would take the field.
In the immediate aftermath of the Sports Illustrated report about Taubman’s behavior, the Astros defended him, decrying it as “an attempt to fabricate a story.” The unattributed statement from the organization insisted that Taubman sought only to support Osuna after the pitcher had given up two runs in the ninth inning, putting the Astros’ win in jeopardy. But other reporters confirmed that they, too, had seen Taubman taunt their colleagues.
The Astros called this @stephapstein report misleading. It is not. I was there. Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.
— Hunter Atkins (@HunterAtkins35) October 22, 2019
Sports Illustrated asked why Taubman would have picked the aftermath in which Osuna blew the team’s lead to yell about his gratitude for the pitcher. It’s a good question, but there’s some clarity to be found in knowing that he appears to have been addressing a specific reporter—who hasn’t identified herself publicly—whose criticism of the team’s decision to bring in Osuna had upset him.
Taubman’s job, like the job of every coach, manager, athletics director, or executive in sports, is to put a winning product on the field. That means that other considerations, such as domestic violence arrests, can sometimes take a back seat when evaluating talent. After the Astros won the pennant, it makes sense that Taubman would have felt a sense of vindication over the decisions the team made in constructing its roster. They were, after all, going to the World Series because of them.
But most fans don’t want to be put into a position of cheering for a player who faces serious allegations of violence against women. People who’ve survived their own experiences with abusive men want to be able to enjoy a game without seeing someone accused of doing the same thing celebrated there, and feeling complicit in it. (Part of the reason this story has caught so much attention is that Taubman’s outburst has reminded Astros fans that they’ve been doing this for the past year and a half.) Occasionally a coach or GM who makes the decision to bring a person like that to the team faces consequences—Art Briles is coaching 3A football in tiny Mount Vernon, Texas, right now, instead of leading Baylor—but it’s rare. Coaches and GMs who can’t field a winning team often get fired in this pressure cooker of an environment, though.
As long as that disconnect exists, teams like the Astros are going to attempt to thread the needle between winning games and reflecting the values of the communities they play in. When someone like Taubman starts yelling at a reporter who had been critical that he’s “so fucking glad we got Osuna,” the difference in priorities is put into sharp relief. But even as the Astros attempt to dig their way out of the PR disaster created by Taubman’s outburst and the team’s subsequent response, the gulf between prioritizing what’s right and what wins is still there. Taubman later offered a conditional “I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions” apology, while owner Jim Crane touted the team’s annual mandatory training around domestic violence—training that apparently failed to equip Taubman with the skills necessary to prevent this kind of outburst.
Statements from Brandon Taubman and Jim Crane pic.twitter.com/IFcY58YOGd
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) October 22, 2019
Action that would actually address these issues—a proper apology that accepted responsibility for how he acted (and for claiming that the Sports Illustrated story was “fabricated”), a rebuke of Taubman’s behavior that comes with consequences, and an acknowledgment of how it put fans in the position it did—hasn’t happened yet.
The message is clear: If you lose games, even if you’re focused on character and building a roster full of players the community can respect, you get fired (ask Charlie Strong). If you yell at a woman that you were right to bring a player like Osuna to the team, your bosses will find all sorts of ways to defend you.
That’s a problem that goes beyond just the Astros—it has existed in sports long before Roberto Osuna was arrested for allegedly assaulting the mother of his child, and it’ll continue to exist until team owners like Crane decide that some things are more important than winning. In the meantime, fans will just have to decide for themselves how to respond when a player like Osuna is on the mound.