Another Look at the Jonah Keri Situation

IBWAA

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The Montreal Expos are gone but dirty memories linger north of the border.Eric Molina, Creative Commons Attribution

By Stephanie Springer

It has been over two years since former sportswriter Jonah Keri was arrested and charged with multiple counts of domestic assault. The news sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community: a widely beloved and respected journalist was credibly accused of assaulting his spouse. As time passed, the number of charges against him grew, and more details were revealed about multiple incidents encompassing abuse, assault, and threats of physical harm. 

For some members of the baseball community, it was incomprehensible to fathom that someone could speak out against domestic violence while also committing egregious acts of assault himself. While sports media had covered athletes committing acts of domestic violence, there seemed to be trepidation and uncertainty in how to report on a fellow sportswriter charged with the same acts. Keri’s colleagues, friends, and fans found themselves asking how someone who had seemed so nice could be a monster behind closed doors.

As Sheryl Ring noted in 2019, the news of his arrest should have been a watershed moment for the baseball community. And yet, his story faded away until last week, when Keri entered a guilty plea for numerous counts of physical assault against his ex-wife and unborn child.

It isn’t entirely surprising that the baseball community moved on. There are a plethora of talented writers providing insightful analysis, and we can simply cut Keri’s commentary out of discussions. Perhaps everyone stopped following the story because it is no longer a baseball story, but a story about a criminal. However, in light of the other stories of harassment and assault that have manifested over the last two years, we must consider that this was a missed opportunity for introspection within baseball media. If Keri could be simultaneously heralded for his storytelling capabilities while also committing these heinous acts, shouldn’t the community take pause and ask itself how and why he was elevated to such prominence?

While many people were shocked by the news of Keri’s arrest, some were not surprised. Women were quietly sharing their experiences of harassment and inappropriate behavior by Keri, as noted on IBWAA podcast episode #056 from September 1, 2021. More details came to light from anonymous sources. Even though Keri is no longer writing about baseball, there remains a fear that he is still so powerful within the baseball writing community that speaking up against him can damage one’s career.

This is exactly why Jonah Keri’s story is still a baseball story. For years, he harassed and intimidated people, and the baseball community continued to elevate him and place him in positions of influence. It would be hard for anyone to speak up and share their stories of harassment at Keri’s hands when so many in the media held Keri in the highest regard, and cited his work as exemplary. When people are afraid to speak up, it has consequences for us all. We miss out on thoughtful writing and analysis, and we miss out on the camaraderie and shared enjoyment of the game we all love.

There have been small but promising steps towards making the baseball writing community a safer place for everyone. The IBWAA has a Code of Conduct for its members, and SABR and Saberseminar have Codes of Conduct for their events. But generally speaking, in the wider baseball community, there are no codes of conduct or prohibitions of harassment. There are certainly whisper networks, but it’s important to recognize that newcomers and historically marginalized people may not benefit from these associations. And even when the whispers transform into shouts, it is simply not enough if no one is listening.

Jonah Keri’s arrest should have been a wake up call to the sportswriting community and baseball social media. There are many people in the baseball community who are quick to say “listen to women”, but these same people consistently fail to give women a voice. To be clear, it is not just men who are problematic; we know that women are culpable in creating and nurturing toxic environments as well. So how do we go about creating a safe space where people from historically marginalized groups can have a voice?

Elevate people who are not men, and give them a platform. Amplify their voices on podcasts and on social media, cite and promote their work, recommend them for writing positions and baseball jobs. When you are asked to (yet again) sit on a manel (a panel composed exclusively of men), insist on increased representation for marginalized voices - invite someone who isn't white, or isn't a man, to be part of your discussion. 

We can (and should) continue to critique MLB’s policies regarding domestic violence and sexual harassment. But it is imperative for the baseball community to take a long, hard look at itself and its own standards. 

If you’re experiencing intimate partner violence, please call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, or chat at thehotline.org.

If you’d like to help victims of domestic abuse in the Montreal area, where Jonah Keri will be sentenced, please consider a donation to Women Aware/Femmes Averties.

Stephanie Springer is an organic chemist and pharmaceutical industry analyst. Her writing has appeared in Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times. She can be reached on twitter at @stephaniekays.

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The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America represents hundreds of writers and content creators wherever baseball is played all over the world, ranging from hobbyists to professionals and everywhere in between. Learn more at ibwaa.com or follow @ibwaa on Twitter.

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