New York Yankees

His public admission of having a serious problem and desire to address it is exactly the right example that should be lauded, not ridiculed.

By Nick Adams

This will be an unpopular opinion, but I am not alone in holding it.

CC Sabathia is doing the right thing. In supporting his decision to enter alcohol rehabilitation treatment, the New York Yankees are doing the right thing, also. If you feel otherwise, I strongly urge you to consider your filter settings for that which is truly important in life.

Earlier today, via an official press release (See full statement here) by the Yankees’ PR team, Sabathia issued a personal statement to baseball and the world that he is voluntarily stepping away from the game of baseball to seek the “professional assistance needed to treat [his] disease.”

For Yankee fans and the team, losing a prominent starter from an already taxed and embattled rotation is bad news. Heading into a one-game Wild Card play-in, Joe Girardi needs all hands on-deck. If/when they make it past the Houston Astros’ Dallas Keuchel, having the veteran left-handed Sabathia available for starts or relief appearances would have been valuable. From a purely sports perspective, the timing is nothing short of horrible.

For the Sabathia family, CC’s teammates and friends, however, the timing couldn’t be better. When someone needs help and admits they need it, the time to get it is as soon as possible. Not “after the playoffs,” not “in a week or two,” not “at a time that is more accommodating to the team’s needs. This issue is an intensely personal one for CC and his family to deal with. If that offends you, then as the many variations on a popular internet meme would say “F*** your feelings.”

Based on what I’ve seen today via social media channels, there are three or four themes along which opinion is developing. I’ll try and address them here:

“Why didn’t they do this in May, or August? That would have been better!!”

Better for whom? The Yankees? Or better for you? All we can do is speculate about the severity of the man’s problem with booze and what has triggered this action on his behalf. Barring legal intervention, no one can force anyone else to enter rehab. Whether this was pre-planned, or precipitant from some recent even(s) is unknown, but if he wasn’t ready then, he wasn’t ready.

Tactically, from a PR perspective, doing this as publicly as he has in the middle of the season would have been worse. In the US, during the summer, baseball is king. There is no other pro season in swing (golf notwithstanding). Had he and the organization taken this public, it would have been mulled over, stewed about and kicked around for months. The prolonged exposure to media scrutiny would have destroyed his name and hurt his family. It would have meant continuous bad press for the Yankees, whose image is already thoroughly tarnished thanks to Alex Rodriguez. Doing it now, with a dramatic MLB Post Season set to begin and the NFL in mid-season, it will minimize the duration of the “attack window” that all involved are now in. The story won’t go away, per se, but it will be muted against a backdrop of bigger stories about bigger issues. It’s not the BEST move, but it is smarter than doing it in the middle of the season.

“This guy gets paid to play baseball, now when it comes time to play when it counts, he can’t hack it? Take your salary and GTFO!!”

Well, yeah, he does get paid to play baseball. He’s done a lot of that over the past decade and a half and he’s done it quite well for most of that time. He’s 27th all-time on the strikeouts list and has a 214-129 record. He was a major contributor to the last Yankee World Series campaign in 2009. I didn’t hear anyone telling him to take a hike after that.

CC Sabathia can be ridiculed for a lot of things of late, but making any claims that the guy is afraid of big moments is an exercise in effectively demonstrating stupidity. He’s been a big game pitcher his entire career. This is an instance where he has taken that audacity and courage and brought it to bear on a real life problem in a very public way. It is exemplary, not cowardly.

“There’s more to this than just alcohol. He’s doing this to stay out in front of something bigger.”

That is very possible, but anyone positing a statement like this with 100% certainty and 0% proof is tantamount to playing an out of tune harmonica on a crowded subway car: you’re just making noise. It’s all pure speculation, but substance abuse behaviors are rarely isolated to just an individual’s battle with the substance at issue. Chemical dependencies are usually accompanied by a host of behavioral tendencies and red flags. Aside from some recent events,  there have been very few in Sabathia’s career.

In late August, a paparazzi snapped a photo of Sabathia smoking on his hotel balcony and allegedly tried to blackmail his wife with the images before they were made public. Sabathia ridiculed the attempt (and made it clear that his wife had full visibility by including her in his statements).

A few weeks earlier, of course, there was the “brawl,” first reported by TMZ, outside a Toronto nightclub in which Sabathia was caught on video exchanging pleasantries with other patrons.

Frankly, his only crime in the Toronto incident was being seen in public wearing hideously pink sneakers. However, it’s undeniable that he’s been in the media more this season for more of the wrong reasons than he has been before. So there might be more going on than what the public can see, but “might” is the operative word in that statement. We just don’t know. We may never know. It’s his, his family’s and the Yankees’ business.

The bottom line is that if there is more to his decision than a battle with the bottle, he is doing something about it. Whether it’s to stay out in front of a bigger story really doesn’t matter. His announcement today came as a surprise to just about everyone, based on the coverage it has received.

In New York, the beat writers and pesky bloggers are all over everything, 24/7/365. It was no secret that Boomer Wells liked to carouse about town any more than it was a secret that Babe Ruth did the same. As a pro athlete, you cannot hide from the media in a major market like New York. CC Sabathia’s namesake rose to preeminence when he was with smaller market teams, but he’s been here long enough for the New York media to have handle on how he conducts himself and there has been nothing about any of this to-date.

The Kangaroo Court of Public Opinion often derides pro athletes for failing to be “proper” role models in society. CC Sabathia is a human being. He is a father, a husband and a leader in his profession. His public admission of having a serious personal problem and his desire to address it because of his obligations to his children, his wife, his team and his sport is EXACTLY the kind of example that should be lauded, not ridiculed.

I, for one, wish him luck.

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