A compassionate response in New York

Published 12:23 am Saturday, October 10, 2015

By Rev. Thurman Hayes Jr.

“I need help.”

Those were the three words New York Yankees star pitcher C.C. Sabathia said last Sunday when he sat down with his manager, Joe Girardi. Sabathia, a hulk of a man who is known to have a heart as big as he is, went on to explain that he was dealing with a serious problem with alcohol, and that he needed immediate help.

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Sabathia is not just any player. He is the team leader of the most famous franchise in sports. He is beloved by his teammates, and even the press, because of his selfless, stand-up nature.

He has always been available, accountable and friendly off the field, and full of courage on the mound.

No one suspected he had a problem with alcohol. Even his teammates, who spend eight months of the year living with him like brothers, had no idea.

This points to something very important about substance abuse: For every homeless alcoholic in the gutter, there are scores of alcoholics who get up, get dressed, go to work and appear to be fully functional.

But they are masking a huge problem.

People in this category often never seek the help they need. The timing never seems right, and they are afraid to open up and let the world know that they have a problem.

There are a couple of important lessons we can learn from Sabathia’s case.

First, his employers handled this situation in the best possible way. This was not just any time for the Yankees. When Sabathia informed his manager of the problem, the team was only two days away from a playoff game. Fortunately, Girardi is a Christian and known to care deeply about his players as human beings.

He did not try to talk Sabathia into delaying his treatment until after the playoffs. Instead, he instantly recognized that this was a life and a family at stake, and that things far more important than baseball were on the table.

Only two days from the biggest game of the year, Girardi and Yankees’ executives spent a whole day arranging for Sabathia to immediately go to rehab and get the help he needed.

This compassionate response was in stark contrast to the behavior of another team earlier this season. When a Los Angeles Angels player suffered a drug relapse and turned himself in, his employers did not act like Angels: They treated the player as a pariah, badmouthed him to the press and traded him.

The Yankees’ response was refreshing. They saw Sabathia as a person first and foremost, not just a player. They saw a man with a wife and children. They recognized that the health of his family in many ways depended on him getting himself healthy.

Likewise, his teammates responded with compassion, care and support for Sabathia’s immediate treatment, even though they knew that his absence in the playoffs could hurt their chances of making it to and then winning the World Series. To their credit, they understood that baseball isn’t the most important thing in the world.

In his public statement, Sabathia said: “I want to 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.”

We’re pulling for you, C.C.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.