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When bad things happen to bad people

Aroldis Chapman has COVID-19. Here’s why you shouldn’t be celebrating.

2020 New York Yankees Photo Day Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

This past weekend, news broke that Yankees southpaw closer and domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman had tested positive for COVID-19. Chapman becomes the 46th player that we know of to test positive for the pandemic, a number which seems incredibly low given that forty players and staff had it a full twenty days ago. Chapman is also the third Yankee to contract the novel coronavirus; superutility man DJ LeMahieu and right-hander Luis Cessa also contracted the disease.

Chapman is said to have “mild” symptoms, which on the surface sounds promising that he will soon recover. Perhaps as a result, news of Chapman’s infection at first didn’t seem like much cause for sympathy - and I understand all too well the urge to celebrate what may well be considered karma. But that’s a dangerous, and I believe, wrongheaded impulse, especially right now.

Let’s start with this: “mild” in the context of the novel coronavirus doesn’t mean a headcold.

But there may have been some misunderstanding of the term “mild” as applied to coronavirus, according to Bruce Aylward, who led the World Health Organization team that visited China amid the outbreak in Wuhan. Aylward, who has, per the Times, “30 years experience in fighting polio, Ebola and other global health emergencies,” says cases classified as “mild” by doctors in China include those that develop into pneumonia, and “severe” means needing machine-assisted breathing. Cases deemed “critical,” he says, involve respiratory failure or multi-organ failure.

That’s right: a “mild” case of COVID-19 can still be worse than a bad case of the seasonal flu.

[Celeste] Morrison, a 37-year-old web developer who lives 60 miles north of Seattle, started to feel run down the evening of Monday, March 2.

First came the cough and extreme fatigue. Then her temperature rose to 99.7°F (37.6°C). Nothing too worrisome, so she decided to just work from home for a few days.

Garret recalls Morrison saying her lungs started to “feel weird” a few days later. “I told her that, per literally everything I was reading, she should only go to the doctor if it was really serious,” Garret told Healthline.

But later that week, Morrison’s lips, fingers, and toes were tinged blue. They headed to the local emergency room.

Morrison tested negative for the flu, but her X-rays pointed to pneumonia. A nurse said they’d run a COVID-19 test, the results of which would be available in 24 to 48 hours.

In the days that followed, Morrison’s fever bounced from 97.1°F to 102.8°F (36.2°C to 39.3°C).

In other words, a “mild” case of COVID-19 is simply one where you aren’t in the hospital, and in many instances mild cases can become worse. So Chapman is likely dealing with pneumonia, a high fever, and difficulty breathing. That’s a frightening set of symptoms for anyone, and it’s entirely possible his condition turns for the worse.

But maybe you’re thinking that he deserves it. It’s a natural impulse, really, and I’d be lying if I said it held no appeal whatsoever. Thinking about a person who committed unspeakable acts of cruelty and violence left helpless as the result of a viral plague can bring a healthy dose of schadenfreude. So why shouldn’t we indulge that part of ourselves?

Because as horrendous a person as Chapman is - and he most certainly is - he’s also a human being with two young children. Were I commissioner of baseball, Chapman would be banned from the game for his actions. But I’m not commissioner, and whilst he works at Major League Baseball - for it is his employment - he deserves, like any other employee, a safe working environment. Yes, he had the right to opt out, but that doesn’t relieve the league of its obligations to do everything humanly possible to protect players - something that simply hasn’t happened.

So the reality is that Chapman is infected with COVID because Major League Baseball won’t pay for prompt testing or sufficient personal protective equipment. There’s a reason Sean Doolittle feels unsafe: MLB is not, in fact, actually safe. So when Aroldis Chapman gets COVID-19, it’s another data point supporting what Doolittle and others are saying.

All across the country, employees are being exposed to COVID-19 at work by employers and governments unable or unwilling to provide appropriate protections for them. Employees in grocery stores, restaurants, retailers are all, in this context, no different than Chapman. No person deserves to work in conditions so poor that they are exposed to slow torture or death by a viral plague. At the end of the day, saying otherwise is dehumanizing. It is dehumanizing to ignore the people we politely render faceless by calling them “essential” or “heroes” instead of actually taking care of them. It is also dehumanizing to justify making a suffering person faceless by invoking their own evil deeds.

And this is the problem: once you begin to say a person deserves illness or torture or death, you dehumanize them. It’s the same mindset as that which lends American society to ignore how this plague is rampaging through our prisons and jails, killing and torturing tens of thousands. By the middle of last month, nearly 70,000 inmates were sick with COVID-19.

Yes, there is a difference between multi-millionaire Aroldis Chapman and the overwhelming majority of people incarcerated across the country. Yes, Chapman is in a far better place to access healthcare to treat his condition. But how we think about them is far more inextricably linked than you might assume at first glance. We think, as a society, that people who commit crimes, especially violent crimes, forfeit their lives, their dignity, their humanness. And yes, what Chapman did was monstrous, and yes he owes a debt both to the survivor of his rage and society itself.

But what Chapman does not owe us is his suffering. The always-excellent Prison Culture blog explains it thusly:

Transformative Justice seeks to provide people who experience violence with immediate safety and long-term healing and reparations while holding people who commit violence accountable within and by their communities. This accountability includes stopping immediate abuse, making a commitment to not engage in future abuse, and offering reparations for past abuse. Such accountability requires on-going support and transformative healing for people who sexually abuse.

This is a hard thing to understand, and accept. It’s in all of our natures to want bad people to experience bad things. In a world where people seem to get ahead by villainy, of course we want the villains to be punished. It’s genuinely difficult to think about the possibility of my abusive mother contracting COVID with anything other than satisfaction.

But at the end of the day, that’s not justice. The world will not be a better place because Aroldis Chapman suffers from COVID-19, just as it will not be a better place if my mother contracted it. It will not be a better place if Chapman dies from it, for there are two children whose lives may well be irrevocably altered for the worse by the loss of their father. And the little bit of our souls we kill by reveling in his comeuppance will make the world worse, too.