On Brandon Taubman, the Astros, and MLB’s domestic abuse problem

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The Astros have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week, as their assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, publicly chastised three sports reporters — all women — about Houston’s 2018 acquisition of domestic abuser Roberto Osuna. Stephanie Apstein, a Sports Illustrated reporter who was on the scene, described the moment in a story that the Astros initially declined to comment on:

And in the center of the room, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!”

The outburst was offensive and frightening enough that another Houston staffer apologized. The Astros declined to comment. They also declined to make Taubman available for an interview.

Despite the scene being so alarming that another Astros’ staffer felt the need to apologize for Taubman’s behavior, the Astros would eventually deny that it even occurred by releasing a statement whose tl;dr is “fake news.” The slightly longer version of it is that the Astros claimed Taubman was trying to help out a player having a rough go of things, even though Osuna wasn’t even present at the time of the incident.

Then, corroborations poured in, witnesses stating they saw the scene as described by Apstein. Backed into a corner, Taubman released his own “apology.” The assistant GM went with the classic “sorry if I offended” that also included a dose of “the truth is that, in my private life, I am simply incredible, this bad thing that brought my existence to your attention isn’t who I am.” No one cares if you have kids or a wife, my dude, neither of those things keeps you from being the kind of person who would willingly acquire and cheer on a domestic abuser because he came at a discount. The proof is in your own behavior.

Taubman’s statement shouldn’t be surprising, though, for a number of reasons. We are talking about a high-ranking Astros’ executive: this is the same team that acquired Osuna one year ago in the middle of his domestic violence suspension despite supposedly having a “zero-tolerance” policy for domestic abusers. General manager Jeff Luhnow tried to frame it as a move that could bring awareness to domestic abuse, which… sort of, Jeff, but not in the way you want it to. Houston donated to domestic abuse charities following the acquisition, because charities are too-often just a behavior shield for the rich and powerful.

Behavior like, say, acquiring a domestic abuser because he’s both good and cheap. Hey, if Luhnow always had his way, the Astros would have convicted sexual abuser Luke Heimlich in the organization, too, so nothing about the Osuna situation, pre- or post-, should surprise us. I guess they’re lucky they decided not to draft Heimlich: after all, if the Astros acquire too many abusers, they’d lose too much of their player savings donating to various charities, and that just wouldn’t be efficient management.

One more reason we shouldn’t be surprised by Taubman’s outburst is his background. He used to work for accounting firm Ernst & Young. To give you a taste of what they’re about, culture-wise, here’s a story that published on Monday at Huffington Post, detailing a presentation the firm put on for its women employees as an attempt to avoid being at the center of another “Me Too” moment. Yes, they wanted the women who worked their to act differently as a response to “Me Too,” and that somehow isn’t the most egregious thing you’re about to read on the subject:

One section of the document is devoted to women’s appearance: Be “polished,” have a “good haircut, manicured nails, well-cut attire that complements your body type,” it states on Page 36. But then, a warning: “Don’t flaunt your body ― sexuality scrambles the mind (for men and women).”

The most important thing women can do is “signal fitness and wellness,” the presentation continues.

Attendees were even told that women’s brains are 6% to 11% smaller than men’s, Jane said. She wasn’t sure why they were told this, nor is it clear from the presentation. Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus, the attendees were told. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.

I don’t even know where to begin with the breakfast food brain thing, and it speaks for itself, anyway, so I’ll just close on them by reminding you that Ernst & Young also worked with the federal government in 2008 during the subprime mortgage crisis, even though they had a hand in triggering the massive economic collapse in the first place.

Or, as my comrade Lauren tweeted:

Anyway, none of this is surprising, which doesn’t make it less of a problem. The reason it isn’t surprising isn’t just because we expect this kind of dipshittery from the Astros, either. It’s because MLB, as a whole, has a cultural issue with domestic violence, and the system they have setup has been good for little more than public relations.

Back in July, when Giants’ CEO Larry Baer returned from his suspension for attacking his wife on camera in public, I wrote about this league-wide culture issue, and how it kept abusers from ever feeling the need to improve themselves or their behavior:

Why should Baer or [Addison] Russell or any of these guys feel compelled to change their behavior or feel moved to even understand why they were suspended when not only is their job sitting here waiting for them when they get back from a suspension, but too much of the league is willing to rewrite the past and make the abuser the victim of their story? If you’re Addison Russell, and you’re already something of a self-absorbed and violent asshole — hey, don’t leave the receipts lying around everywhere if you don’t want to be thought of as such — then why would you change when any part of the world is telling you that you’re in the right, and you’re the victim here? Fans do this for players, too, and the media too often covers for abusers because they know how to play baseball, so between that, Russell’s stans in the Cubs universe, and people like Brennaman and Brantley, why would Russell or Baer even think they need to change or learn or grow?

Longer suspensions aren’t the answer, at least not on their own. MLB needs to educate, reeducate, reprogram, treat, whatever you want to call it. What about Russell’s behavior indicates that he won’t abuse more women in the future? I don’t have the degrees to answer that question scientifically, but just as someone who knows what words mean and what they imply, about the only thing Russell seems to have learned is that next time, his abuse probably needs to be more subtle. MLB isn’t doing enough now, not to the abusers, not to the culture they exist within, and the cycle isn’t going to break so long as this is the case.

MLB is going to “investigate” this instance, too, but given they can’t tell you for sure if Taubman even finished his own domestic violence training he was eligible to take, they probably aren’t going to get much done here that isn’t just a slap on the wrist so they can say they did something to the guy who said the quiet parts extremely loud in reporters’ faces.

Taubman didn’t commit domestic abuse like Osuna, but it’s very clear that he doesn’t mind Osuna’s own behavior one bit if it helps the Astros win ballgames. Hell, Osuna is the reason the Astros almost didn’t win Game 6 against the Yankees, as he allowed a game-tying home run in the ninth, and Taubman still went on his rant directed at women in the clubhouse. It’s almost as if, for a guy who has been poisoned by his upbringing and male-dominated careers that demean women and their supposed pancake brains, that acquiring and celebrating Osuna even when he fails is almost as much about Taubman’s ability to assert dominance over women as a man than it is about baseball. Kind of like how domestic abuse is about asserting power and dominance over victims. Weird how that tracks.

This isn’t just some projection, either. Taubman was targeting a specific reporter with his behavior, that much is clear from NPR’s reporting on the issue. He didn’t appreciate that this reporter wouldn’t just let the Osuna story die, that she had to continually tweet out phone numbers to domestic abuse hotlines after Osuna appeared in games, that she wore a bracelet supporting victims of domestic abuse to the clubhouse. Why couldn’t she just let this go, why couldn’t she just be cool and let Taubman and the boys do what they pleased in order to close out some baseball games? So, when the opportunity came, in Taubman’s mind, to shove the Osuna acquisition just a little bit more into this reporters’ face, he took it. What an asshole, but you knew that.

It’s misogyny all the way down, as Graham MacAree wrote for SB Nation on Tuesday. The Astros have a misogyny problem because baseball has a misogyny problem, and whatever suspension or punishment Taubman is facing isn’t going to change that. He was raised to be this way by society at large, by Ernst & Young, and now, by the Astros. None of this is accidental, and until we see significant systemic changes across the game, there will be more Brandon Taubman’s out there, unmasked one at a time by their own hubris and self-assuredness. And, even more frighteningly, there will be more Roberto Osuna’s for them to cheer on, too.

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