Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Stupid Arguments About Josh Lueke

Rooting for the Rays is an easy and likable activity. They have a smart manager and players with positive or at least neutral personalities. Their front office embraces critical thinking and new ideas. And sitting in the AL East with teams with monstrous payrolls, bigger fanbases and better stadiums makes rooting for them seem somehow just. Being an underdog by dint of fewer opportunities gives them an air of superiority in terms of baseball-fan morals.

Trading for Josh Lueke changes the gravity of the Rays' baseball universe.

Lueke has pitched all of 32 innings in the big leagues, and he may develop into a fine reliever, or he may not. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that the Rays might have obtained yet another undervalued player. Only, in this case, he's undervalued because he probably raped a woman.

In 2008, while pitching for the Class A Bakersfield Blaze, Lueke and some teammates brought a woman home with them. All of them were drunk. The next morning, feeling violated, the woman went to a hospital and requested a rape kit. The last thing she remembered before waking up with her pants off was a man ejaculating on her back and hair while she vomited into a toilet. DNA tests later proved that Lueke had sodomized her, despite his initially claiming that he'd had no sexual contact with her.

Already, the Rays' trade has created endless discussions no fan or human being really wants to have — the kind that foist a sudden need for armchair forensics, jurisprudence and politics onto people who'd rather just talk about baseball and would rather not discover the sexual politics of those around them. A lot of them are predictable and will probably be rehashed over the course of the season, and a lot of them are ugly. For all our sakes, let's get rid of them:

It's possible the woman is lying. Distilling events like this to "he said, she said" has its appeal for many people, mostly men and usually idiots. Take this vacant cretin, who drags out notoriously racist baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis as a moral yardstick, then tries to analogize an armed robbery, committed by a man named Alabama Pitts, with forcible rape and sodomy. True, he admits that the analogy somewhat breaks down because (emphasis mine), "By any measure, the crime Pitts was convicted of was far more serious than the one to which Lueke pled no contest," then repeatedly refers to rape as a "lesser crime." He then protests (emphasis his), "Some of my best friends are women." That fixes everything; women are great, but it's not his fault that the best friends anyone can have are inanimate goods. It sucks when a woman is profoundly physically, emotionally and psychologically violated in a way that can ruin her health and happiness for the rest of her life, but it's worse when someone uses a gun to take small fungible objects.

It would be comforting if he were the only one, but message board debates over the last two days and the human catastrophe that is his own blog's comment section dashes those hopes. There is no shortage of American men who feel perverse incentives to equate the juridical and social problems caused by the insignificant number of false rape accusations in this country with the fact that rape victims are so horrified of reliving their experiences, being demonized as whores or finding themselves accused of lying that 60% of all sexual assaults go unreported.

The common loathsome explanation for false rape charges is "buyer's remorse," the idea that a woman ashamed of her decision to have sex with someone will somehow feel less so by not only sharing the experience with social workers, police officers and attorneys, but also by assuming the enormous weight of repeating a lie. In Lueke's case, the argument would go, "A woman supposedly felt less shame in taking part in a long criminal process during which she had to pretend not to be the sort of person who enjoys letting strange men ejaculate on and sodomize her than she would in just going home after doing that voluntarily."

The buyer's remorse explanation doesn't wash, both because of the above dehumanizing details and the perils of perjury and because the woman was seen flirting with and kissing other men at a bar earlier in the night. If telling a lie about her night was really the best option, then it was an awfully stupid one, given that the woman's earlier behavior would only fuel "blame the victim" eagerness and the easy label of "slut." And if Lueke's interaction with her was 100% consensual, then it doesn't explain his far more stupid decision to deny having sex with her after he'd deposited his semen in her anus and his skin cells in her vagina.

Even if one wants to be as fair as possible to each party and try to reconcile as much as possible from both stories, it's difficult to envision Lueke's conduct as anything other than sexual assault. Claiming that any level of intoxication invalidates a woman's ability to consent is paternalistic and insulting, but it stretches credibility to suggest that a woman who pukes in a toilet before blacking out is able to make a lucid decision. When you add the claim that she was allegedly too wracked with vomiting cramps or too drunk to react when a person she couldn't identify decided to jerk off on her — something Lueke might well have been aware of — there's not much room left to argue that she was consenting to anything.

This is one of those conditional claims that relies on the notion that Lueke's sentence was commensurate with his actions. The alleged victim opted not to pursue prosecution further because of the "he said, she said" nature of her case, which led to Lueke's sentence of 42 days in prison, for which he was given time served. He walked that day.

As said above, most sexual assaults go unreported, in part because of fear of "blame the victim." Victims' hesitancy extends to the trial process, when the possibility of being further humiliated by a defense attorney or seeing a rapist walk away scott free increases the appeal of a plea bargain. The victim is spared further stress, and she at least gets something from her attacker. In this case, the alleged victim got an apology from Lueke, in exchange for a plea of "False Imprisonment with Violence." Of course, just the name of the crime he conceded committing questions his eventual assertion that the sex he and the alleged victim had was consensual. How does anyone have willing, un-coerced sex while in a state of violent imprisonment?

Whether a lesson was learned and full punishment endured is anyone's guess, but assuming that either condition has been met is probably a bad one. Lueke might have unjustly spent 42 days in jail, or he might have gotten away with serving only 42 days of a 12-year sentence. If you believe the latter and want to find some solace in his comments since his plea bargain, don't bother. The only thing worse than the insipidly homiletic comments about "lessons" and "moving on" and "faith" his mouth ejaculates is his tendency to describe the accusations in ever more minimizing, vague and trivial terms. ("It was just a freak accident kind of thing"!) In a year's time, he might refer to the prospect of his own trial and a woman's rape as "that thing that was so random!" But, you know, all randomness is God's plan.

Tampa Bay fans have already gone through this doomed thought experiment. In 2007, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed tight end Jerramy Stevens to drop balls for them and space out during blocking assignments, despite the fact that there was even less doubt about his rapist bona fides and his total worthlessness as a human being. Stevens had the moral aptitude and social complexion of the sort of blood parasite that kills dogs, and only two things prevented his status on the roster from inspiring full-scale revulsion:
1. The fact that the Buccaneers as a whole were so mediocre and their player development so awful during his tenure that most fans gave up mid-season anyway.
2. The fact that he'd only arrived in Tampa after a college and another NFL franchise had endlessly passed the buck on his violent, irredeemable degeneracy.
For the Buccaneers at least, there were insulating layers of failure. Two other team organizations, as well as the NCAA and NFL as a whole, succumbed to a gutless profit motive and made Stevens' presence on an NFL roster basically an inevitability. It was clear long before he joined the Bucs that nobody in any position of power considered conscience an impediment to his further career. That said, there is no need for one sports fanbase to endure two live-action experiments in "can the rapist guy contribute enough that he can be a winning teammate and maybe sell merchandise?"

If there are any positive outcomes from Stevens' legacy in Tampa Bay, they are these:
1. To give the lie to the notion that objections to Lueke stem from some currently fashionable and pageload-friendly outrage about sexual indiscretion, prompted by the revelations about Jerry Sandusky at Penn State.
2. That anyone surprised by Jerry Sandusky and Penn State is either disingenuous or sub-moronic.
Stevens was allowed to go on his reign of terror over coeds and unopened beer bottles to preserve the chances for football success at the University of Washington. Washington. Despite a history as an occasionally great program, it still wasn't a national moneymaker like Penn State or USC or UF or FSU. It was "you hired Ty Willingham? really?" Washington. A college program whose recent powerhouse credentials rival a moped was more than willing to abuse the security of women, the concept of justice and the patience of reasonable human beings to make sure Jerramy Stevens took the field. Then a community that he'd plundered of its dignity was willing to accept him as an NFL player. Evidently, in Seattle, the 12th Man is Ray Lewis. Oh, dip: I don't want to see nuthin'.

At a time when it seems as if every major program in NCAA football is determined to expose itself as soulless in pursuit of the crassly mercenary, the smartest team in baseball has decided to give a shot to a heretofore so-so pitcher on mercenary grounds. It's the sort of decision that gives comfort to those whitewashing collegiate dissipation and hoping to apply the same to their own rooting interests, while masking nothing to anyone who's paid attention to much of anything having to do with football this decade.

This kind of distinction is easier to make in baseball, with so many outcomes determined by one person's abilities directly facing another's. It's even easier to make in the American League. A Rays fan can root for every batter to have a good day and for Josh Lueke to give up some walks, without penalizing the Rays offense or giving away a game on defense. But making choices like this unavoidably sounds like making excuses. A simpler fan choice is simply not rooting, not handing over money until Lueke is gone. An even easier choice awaits the Rays front office, which is to decide that the benefit of a marginal bullpen arm is neither likely to provide the difference between going to the playoffs or going home, nor worth the possibility of alienating fans.

Of course, this kind of self-interested parsing isn't at all new to sports fans. It's probably the #1 rationalizing activity of educated fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Which brings us to the last nasty little argument:

Unfortunately, for a lot of sports fans, moral calculus includes a factor of winning. This is why you see Steelers fans tying themselves into torturous knots about how they root for the team as a whole, its legacy and what it means to other fans and to Pittsburgh — but not Ben Roethlisberger. Nobody would try to slice excuses so thinly if Pittsburgh's starting quarterback accused of two rapes was Tommy Maddox or Dennis Dixon. They suck, and they're not worth the effort of trying to wave away moral concerns so they don't interfere with the big party. It's on this basis that you're likely to see the most opposition to "Josh Lueke: Unproven Relief Pitcher": the worse he plays, the more disgust with his off-field conduct will approach universality, because the self-interested value of pardoning him for his on-field conduct will approach zero.

Give any group of people enough cause to suppose they might feel an orgiastic release of collective satisfaction, and they will begin to make excuses for their sufferance of any indignity. If Ray Lewis claimed that he didn't see Ben Roethlisberger raping a woman in the backseat of a car that Donte Stallworth was using to run over and kill a pedestrian, it would probably seem plausible, if that car were part of a Super Bowl victory parade. We make excuses for what we want.

Josh Lueke promises nothing. Any shattering orgasmic pleasure he engenders won't be for a fanbase, given his record. But waiting around to discover that signals a collective failure and shame of countless people who should know better and be able to arrive at a conclusion without a season's statistics.

The Rays only invite further ugliness by trading for someone from the other end of the country and expecting his gross baggage doesn't come with him. Josh Lueke is cheap because he's devalued himself, not because of a failure of mathematical analysis, and the Rays front office is passing the savings on to you and hoping that you legitimize the process by cheering anyway. They should know better.

They should know how victims come to be the most exploited, demonized and terrified members of the media circus that surrounds sex crimes. They should know that sports fans make the worst excuses in their self-interests, at the expense of the social interests that preserve and improve us. They've economized in terms of cash and at the expense of the sort of intangibles that are actually worth discussing in a sports community. They bought low on someone whose price and worth deserves to stay there.