Late Saturday night, during the Yankees-Rays game, I stumbled onto an online conversation among baseball writers and fans regarding the propriety of tweeting about Rays pitcher Josh Lueke's criminal history every time he's on the mound.
That history is well known, at least among baseball types. In 2008, Lueke, then a pitcher with the Texas Rangers' Single-A affiliate, was charged with rape and sodomy. The victim, a 22-year-old woman, told police that after a night at the bar with Lueke and other ballplayers, she'd awoken, partially clothed, on a couch in the apartment he shared with a teammate. She told police she remembered vomiting, and that, while she was doing so, someone had been standing at her side, masturbating on her. DNA found in her hair, on her tank-top, and on an anal swab matched that of Lueke's, despite the fact that he'd said there was no physical contact between him and the victim. After his arrest, he changed his story, telling police they'd had consensual sex.
In the end, Lueke pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of false imprisonment with violence. He was sentenced to the 42 days he'd already spent in jail, and now makes around half a million dollars a year pitching for the Rays. According to an MLB.com story, by 2011 he was "moving forward," and described his crime as "a freak accident kind of thing."
Because of the nature of his crime and perhaps because of stories like MLB.com's, which treated the "situation" as a bit of adversity for Lueke to overcome, some baseball fans have taken it upon themselves to remind the public—in the limited capacity they can—that regardless of how well Lueke may be pitching, he still victimized someone. In fact, there's something buoying (and to be honest, culturally uncommon) about the fact that the collective still hasn't forgotten the charges six years later, that each time he gets called out of the bullpen you can rely on a "Josh Lueke is a rapist" chorus rising up from stadiums, bars, and couches across baseball land. Links about his arrest litter my feed, and batters are cheered on against him. But during that Saturday night game, DRaysBay.com editor Erik Hahmann suggested that enough was enough. "It gets brought up every game by some asshole on twitter," he tweeted. What ensued was a discussion, largely made up of male writers and fans, about the etiquette of reminding people that Lueke raped a woman.
"If you think tweeting that Josh Lueke is a rapist every time he pitches means you're more anti-rape than other people you are dense," said Ben Duronio of SB Nation's Talking Chop. Others agreed that tweeting was a futile waste of time, and if you actually cared about stopping rape you should instead donate money (to whom, I'm unsure of) and do things (what, I'm also unsure of, other than not rape people). Some seemed to wonder why we shamed Lueke for the crime of having violated someone, while we remained relatively silent over Yasiel Puig, whose crime was driving his car really fast. (I'm not even going to touch that one.) Less articulate missives characterized the reminders as "People feeling the need to be superior by pointing out Josh Lueke is a rapist every five minutes" and "People tweeting 'Josh Lueke is a rapist' and acting like empowered."
The rather heated dialogue included a lot of men telling each other and the world how exactly we should address a once-accused rapist in our midst, without a lot of discussion of what a rape survivor might think the best course of action is. It occurred to me in that moment that maybe the MLB doesn't know how to deal with a man who raped a woman because it is a bunch of men trying to deal with a man who raped a woman. The end result is so many people, including those in that discussion, entirely missing the point.
I know that a lot of us are well aware of what kind of person Josh Lueke is, and that rape is a very bad thing. We don't need reminders to be secure in that knowledge, nor is it likely we'll forget. But with all due respect to Mr. Hahmann and his ilk, the onslaught of tweets calling Josh Lueke a rapist is not for you. It's for the thousands of rape survivors who watch games and know that what they love is sullied by baseball's willingness to turn a blind eye to the kind of suffering they themselves endured. It's a gesture on the part of fans who know it's unlikely Lueke will ever see his career end as a result of those actions, but refuse to tolerate his inclusion, who believe that, while a team may opportunistically decide to field a talented player who has committed an act of sexual violence, it shouldn't be immune from the disgust of the public.
That disgust is healthy, too; it reinforces the taboo and militates against the impulse of big-time sports to normalize and flatten out even abhorrent behavior like Lueke's. (Josh Lueke is "moving forward" from his difficult "situation," says MLB.com, as if he'd done nothing more serious than strain an oblique. Five years from now, he could very well be just another ballplayer with a vaguely checkered past. Was it some legal thing? Drugs, maybe? Who can remember, anyway?) Saying something out loud is a small token that takes very little effort, and perhaps it doesn't "do anything" in the traditional sense, but for someone like me who understands what it's like to be violated and to watch the man who altered my life forever live on in relative, undisturbed success, it certainly means something. In many ways, the gesture means even more within the confines of sports culture, a place that is generally ruled by the most toxic kind of masculinity.
Apologies to those for whom these Josh Lueke tweets interfere with their enjoyment of a game, but the threat of sexual assault interferes with how a vast majority of women enjoy life. The collective vitriol over his ongoing employment by the Rays has everything to do with the fact that he is a high-profile example of the way rape works in everyday life. The act—the trauma—often leaves a life-long mark on the victim, influencing her ability to navigate the world safely and comfortably. In a very large percentage of cases, the perpetrator sees little or no consequence, and the victim's suffering is exacerbated by his freedom and success. The feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that compounds the original injustice is debilitating, and though most of us will never see our assailant on television, in the middle of a baseball diamond, Lueke is a larger-than-life illustration of our collective, crushing disregard.
Because most survivors never have the opportunity to name their attackers, I have to disagree with the suggestion that tweeting is a futile endeavor—naming Lueke is most certainly accompanied by its own sense of empowerment. My own fear may prevent me from calling out my attacker in a public forum, but at least I can remind the baseball community that we have failed victims every time Lueke comes up to pitch. The fact that others don't see it as a meaningful action is entirely meaningless to me. You can volunteer and you can donate money, but the most significant acts when it comes to dismantling a culture that forgives rape is to name those who commit it and support those who endure it. The irritation this man faces each time the chorus of condemnation rises is wholly insignificant when held up against the plight of survivors, and it may be wise for those who dismiss the messages as a "waste of time" to think for a moment that rape victims might have different thoughts on what does and doesn't constitute a waste of time.
Lueke's inclusion in the game is particularly heartbreaking because baseball is a place where I've gone for many years to take a break from dealing with rape trauma. Its beauty, to me, has always been rooted in its fairness and transparency. Men follow rules, perform by standards, and are ejected for disrespect. It's a fantasy, I know, but one I'd like to maintain as an escape, and the reliable stream of people who believe Lueke doesn't belong there is a small solace in an outside world that so often mishandles and ignores the bad deeds of men.
One tweet that stuck with me in that heated discussion was a declarative message from Dan Simpson, of SB Nation's Talking Chop. "My 2 cents," he said. "Josh Lueke is a terrible human being. Pointing it out doesn't make you a good one."
Yes, but it is, in fact, the very least you can do while still watching him play. And it's a really easy way for me, and other rape survivors, to see where our allies are in this murky business we call sports.
Stacey May Fowles is a novelist, essayist, and baseball fan living in Toronto.