“I was an 18-year-old Blue Jays fan, and Roberto Alomar was a 46-year-old Hall of Famer and we were alone in the clubhouse. He pushed his unwelcome body up against me from behind. He assumed I wanted it without even asking my permission.”
These are the words of Melissa Verge, describing her experience with Roberto Alomar in yesterday’s Toronto Star.
For those who don’t follow baseball, Alomar was an All-Star second baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays and a key player on the teams that won the World Series. He is also the only member of baseball’s Hall of Fame to be inducted as a Blue Jay.
The story of his sexual misconduct broke on April 30 when Major League Baseball (MLB) banned him for life. For their part, the Blue Jays not only fired him, as such a ban requires, but also removed all vestiges of his time with the team, including his name on their stadium’s Level of Excellence and his Hall of Fame banner which hung over the outfield.
When his firing was first announced, I actually had doubts about the nature of his offences. I wondered if this was a case of a guy making a couple of off-colour or sexist comments. Not that I condone those kinds of comments or the attitude that begets them; I just don’t think termination is always a justifiable response. But the more I read about MLB’s investigation and the severity of its decision, the more I realized Alomar must have done something pretty terrible. There were no details about the initial accusation against him–and it is entirely the victim’s right to decide when or if she wants to share anything about the incident–but Ms. Verge’s story paints a pretty disturbing picture.
I linked to one of the Star articles above, and there is another here. For those who cannot access the articles, here is the gist. In 2014, Ms. Verge was a volunteer at a Blue Jays kids’ camp. As the quote at the beginning of this post indicates, Alomar physically accosted her after luring her into the clubhouse for a “private” tour, then directly propositioned her, inviting her to his hotel suite and asking what kind of alcohol she liked to drink. He also told her to keep everything between them, of course. Ms. Verge told “Blue Jay official” Rob Jack about Alomar’s behaviour at the camp. He got Alomar to issue her something of an apology, but declined to report his behaviour to any higher-ups.
Note the ages here. She was 18; he was 46. And note the year. It was 2014. This is not some long-ago incident that might have occurred before Alomar was mature enough to realize it was wrong. He was not a kid who might have taken things too far with an equally young woman. He was an adult who took advantage of his fame and power within a professional sports organization to intimidate and sexually harass a much younger woman.
The year 2014 is also significant because it is the same year that the first accuser was victimized by Alomar. The team has also investigated allegations made by a third woman. As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. How many more women will come forward now that Ms. Verge has told her story?
Apparently there were no formal complaints made against Alomar within the Jays’ organization, other than the one Jack buried, but there were whispers about his behaviour. According to a former employee interviewed by the Star, none of these allegations should have come as a surprise, given that “‘the organization was well aware of (Alomar’s) nature.’” So he was being protected. Whether by Rob Jack alone or people higher on the ladder is uncertain.
Hopefully future investigations will determine who knew what about Alomar and when, but the fact remains that his story is depressingly familiar: famous guy gets a job where he can meet starstruck young women and take advantage of them, confident they won’t speak out against him and fully aware that he he can use his power and reputation as a shield if they do. Tale as old as time.
In January, 2016, my sons attended a winter camp with the Blue Jays, held at their stadium. The kids got to do on-field drills with former Blue Jays players, including Roberto Alomar. One of my sons got to work out directly with Alomar, even getting an autograph on his Blue Jays ball cap. Although he was far too young to have watched Alomar play, he knew of him and was thrilled to have that autograph. We debated about what to do with the hat, an expensive, trendy flat cap that I had just purchased. He decided not to wear it anymore, putting it away in a special box so he could preserve this incredible memento from one of the game’s greats. It’s still in his closet but has certainly lost its sheen.
The camp my kids attended was held two years after Alomar groped and propositioned Ms. Verge. I shudder to think what he might have been up to behind the scenes at their camp. My kids got to tour the Jays’ clubhouse, a real highlight for them. I wonder if any young women were also taken on a tour of the clubhouse during that camp, in a different way and with an entirely different feeling at the end.
Alomar has not replied to the latest allegation, but in his comments about MLB banning him, he referenced “the current social climate” (CBC.ca), as though it wasn’t his behaviour that was the problem, but people’s response to it. He seemed incapable of seeing what he had done for what it was–an act of violence.
Intimidation, violation of personal space, non-consensual touching, pressuring someone for sex–all fall within a continuum of sexual violence first defined by Liz Kelly in Surviving Sexual Violence. The continuum describes the range and extent of sexual violence and helps victims make sense of their experiences by showing them how “‘typical’ [unharmful] and ‘aberrant’ [harmful] male behaviour shade into one another.”*
Just like the Roberto Alomar case.
To Alomar and his enablers, his actions may have been “typical” guy stuff. To the women involved, his behaviour was aberrant, harmful, violent, and frightening.
Although maligned by Alomar, we can thank our “current social climate” for highlighting the sexual violence continuum, clearly defining aberrant acts, and giving victims the courage to call out those who commit them, like the once revered but now disgraced All-Star.
* Kelly, Liz. Surviving Sexual Violence. Oxford: Polity Press, 1988, Chapter 4.
Time’s Up image by Juan Moyano | Dreamstime.com