CC Sabathia and the Humanity of Athletes

Tonight, the Yankees take the field with their season on the line, as they host the Astros in the AL’s Wild Card game. CC Sabathia will not be with the team for the game, or any other game this postseason, because he checked into a rehab clinic for treatment related to alcohol abuse. The full statement that he released to the media.

“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.

“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.

“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.

“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide. But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.

“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”

For making this decision, Mr. Sabathia, I’m already proud of you.

As baseball fans, we tend to see players through the lens of what they can do for us. Did they help our team win? Did they provide enjoyable entertainment for us to watch? Did they sign a ball for our kids? Our opinion of them is often directly related to what they’ve done recently to improve our own lives. Our relationship with athletes is mostly selfish. We like them when they decide to play for our team and hate them when they decide to play for someone else, even if that move improves their own lives.

At its core, our relationship with athletes is not really a relationship at all. We fund the machine that pays them extraordinary amounts of money, and because of that, we feel entitled to treat them as if they somehow now belong to us, or should prioritize our desires over their own. When Daniel Murphy dared to take an extra day to help his wife after she gave birth to their child, he was criticized by a portion of the Mets fanbase for choosing his family over his job.

Today, CC Sabathia made a similar choice. At a time when the games matter most, he picked his family over his job. And I think he should be applauded for doing just that.

Sabathia has four children, and he will be their father long after he stops playing baseball. His relationship with his kids will continue for years after his relationship with the public ends, and he chose to get the help he needed to be a better father for the long haul, even though it came at the expense of his professional reputation. That could not have been an easy decision. Waiting another month, doing this away from the public spotlight, would have been easier. Instead, Sabathia chose to take the harder road, take the public criticism, and not delay getting treatment that could give his children a better life with a better dad.

Sabathia chose to be a human being first and a ballplayer second, in a world where so often we pretend that athletes sold their humanity for the right to do their job. Yes, they chose this life, and yes, they are well compensated financially by the machine that we all help fund, but I guarantee you Sabathia didn’t knowingly sign up for this. He didn’t agree to sell his health and physical well being, as well as his relationship with his family, to get to play Major League Baseball. That shouldn’t be part of the cost of the job.

To see Sabathia prioritize himself and his humanity, instead of his identity as a ballplayer, is a decision worth celebrating. I hope he gets the treatment he needs, and goes on to make a full recovery, becoming the father, husband, and person he wants to be.

Already, he’s made a decision that we should be proud of. Already, he’s worth looking up to.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Brent Henry
6 years ago

“Already, he’s worth looking up to.”


6 years ago
Reply to  Brent Henry

If there’s nothing more to the timing of his decision I agree with the article. If this decision was a preemptive attempt towards controlling another story yet to come out about CC, I’d have a different opinion.

Shirtless Johan Santa
6 years ago
Reply to  Brian

Maybe CC had one too many bad episodes with alcohol lately, and someone close to him said clean up now or else. I’m betting it’s as simple as that.

Brent Henry
6 years ago

I do hope my *cringe* isn’t taken as a lack of compassion. I think he made a tough decision and sincerely wish him all the best. We’re dealing with a lack of detail and I am not ready to say he is someone worth looking up to.

Slacker George
6 years ago
Reply to  Brian

I think Prez. Reagan said best: “Mistrust, but pre-stigmatize.”

6 years ago
Reply to  Brent Henry

He’s in legal trouble and his attorney checked him into rehab before his arrest. It’s the only scenario that makes sense. So wait a few days & see what shakes out. DUI. Domestic dispute. Etc.

Just being realistic. BTW…I am NL fan and could not care less about him or NYY one way or the other.

Mr Big Swingin' D
6 years ago
Reply to  Brent Henry

I just don’t understand the timing of this…unless perhaps he is suicidal or something?

I myself am a grateful recovering alcoholic, so I am not trying to be insensitive here but rather I understand this problem more than most of the readers of Fangraphs.

But he couldn’t have attended AA meetings and met with doctors (i.e., done outpatient work on the problem) for maximum of one month more until after the playoffs, and maybe just until after today if the Yanks lose the WC game?

And then, after the Yankees season concludes, whenever that might be but a maximum of one month from now, couldn’t he have just entered in-patient rehab then?

I have to believe the problem is very, very serious if he and his family made the decision to enter rehab immediately.

The question is not whether he needs rehab – we can agree that he does because he thinks that he does. But rather the question is one of timing and the fact that he is leaving the team at this juncture of the season indicates a very, very serious problem.