This is a tragic local story with vast ethics significance.
Long-time Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, a native Bostonian and former player who has been a vivid part of the Boston sports scene since 1977, was stunned by tragedy last summer when his oldest son, Jared, 35, allegedly murdered his girlfriend by stabbing her to death as their ive-year-old daughter looked on. Prior to the incident, most New Englanders were unaware of Jared Remy’s problems, but his ugly past soon found its way into the newspapers.
A recent Boston Globe investigative report appeared to be the saga of a “bad seed” right out of a horror movie, for Jared Remy, son the popular, affable Jerry, had been arrested, and released, 19 times, for an assortment of alleged crimes, many of them violent. They included battering and threatening a high school girlfriend; pushing a pregnant girlfriend out of a moving car; texting death threats to her, and attempting to beat her up; threatening to kill yet another girlfriend; terrorizing a fourth sufficiently that police were called to their apartment eight times; and involvement in steroid peddling and abuse. The Globe also obtained the testimony of a woman who alleges that Jared joined her in brutally beating a high school boy, causing him permanent brain injuries.
The Globe story (and others) raised the question of how and why the Massachusetts justice system kept releasing Jared. It is a valid question, not peculiar to his case, unfortunately. Many have speculated that Jared’s status as the son of popular Boston sports figure played a part in getting him extraordinary leniency, but as Remy’s lawyer pointed out, several of the incidents also involved complainants and alleged victims who refused to testify or withdrew their complaints. In the realm of domestic abuse, evidently Jared Remy’s specialty, this is too common. The Globe writer, Eric Moskowitz, also insinuated that the Remys went too far in supporting their disturbed, violent and troubled son, who had learning disabilities and other clinical behavioral problems. They apparently paid for psychiatric treatment, counseling and legal fees, and helped with his rent and other expenses, though the extent of this has not been confirmed by the Remys, the only ones who could be authoritative on the topic. The rest is hearsay.
Jerry Remy, who has battled depression his whole adult life, withdrew from his role as color commentator after his son’s arrest, missing the Red Sox championship run. Outside of a brief statement condemning his son’s actions and expressing condolences to the parents of the victim, Jennifer Martel, Remy was silent until announcing this Spring that he would try returning to the broadcast booth for the upcoming season. Then, as Spring Training for the Red Sox ran down and Remy seemed, outwardly at least, capable as ever of being an affable presence with whom to watch the home team’s exploits, the Globe story appeared. The revelations about Jared unleashed an unexpected (by me, at least) backlash against his father, and Bostonians in droves bombarded the sports radio talk shows, blogs and news media websites with the opinion that Remy should step down as Red Sox color man for cable broadcasts. How they reached this ethically indefensible position is instructive regarding how inept and unskilled most people are in day-to-day ethical analysis, how emotion becomes a substitute for objectivity and logic, how hindsight bias makes experts and judges out of individuals with the credentials of neither, and also how ignorant most of the public is about the ethical obligations and duties of the legal profession.
Here are the reasons being cited for why Jerry Remy should give up his career:
1. There is blood on his hands. He and his wife raised “a monster.”
2. Remy hired a “high-priced lawyer” to keep his son out of jail and on the streets.
3. He exploited his influence as a celebrity to influence the justice system and ensure that his son was never jailed for his violent exploits.
4. The fact that the other two adult Remy children have had run-ins with the law proves that the Remys were bad parents, and thus share responsibility for Jennifer Martel’s death.
5. The Remy’s irresponsibly enabled their troubled son by paying his expenses, helping him find employment, and paying for counseling and medical treatment.
6. Remy’s continued work on Red Sox broadcasts is “disrespectful” to the memory and family of Jennifer Martel.
7. His presence on the broadcasts makes some viewers “uncomfortable” and reminds them of the tragedy.
There is not a fair, valid or persuasive argument among them. Nonetheless, the increasingly common phenomenon of a vengeful cyber-mob is being whipped into a frenzy on the social media, and in his emotionally vulnerable state, Jerry Remy could be driven from his job. In the alternative, it is certainly possible that the controversy could make him a detriment to the New England Sports Network’s bottom line, causing it to do what profit-driven operations must, right and wrong be damned. Certainly the animus directed at Remy for the actions of his son are likely to harm Remy’s many business ventures, which range from memorabilia to children’s books to restaurants, all dependent on his popularity with “Red Sox Nation,” of which he is the honorary head.
The attacks on Remy are the epitome of assigning guilt by association. A father is simply not accountable for the independent actions of his adult, 35-year old son, regardless of what the child’s upbringing was like. Remy has acknowledged, as any parent would, that whatever course he and his wife took with Jared, it didn’t work. That, of course, does not mean that how he handled his son was “wrong,” or that a different approach would have changed the result. Nobody knows that, and nobody can know that. For total strangers to embrace the flawed reasoning of consequentialism to presume fault on the Remys’ part is irresponsible, ignorant and unfair.
Remy’s continued support of his son is laudable, as it springs from the unconditional partisanship, loyalty and love that children should expect from their parents. For most, this is an essential part of keepin them on a secure and virtuous path to adulthood. There is no evidence in Moskowitz’s report that suggests that Remy minimized the wrongfulness of his son’s violent ways, encouraged it, modeled it, or declined to condemn it at every turn. Remy himself had no such violent tendencies, and the most influential thing a father can do for a son is to be a virtuous role model. Remy appears to have been that. Why was his son violent? Nobody can say. Good people produce bad offspring and vice-versa. I wrote a post here about Herman Goering’s heroic brother, Albert. How do you explain such divergence of character in one family? It is a mystery. Reviling one family member for the evil conduct of another may be common—actor Edwin Booth’s career was destroyed when his brother shot Lincoln—but it isn’t rational or fair.
21st Century class bias, nurtured by the prevailing political climate, especially in Super-Blue Massachusetts, is also at work, I think. Remy was a ballplayer, and people think that all ballplayers are “one-per-centers.” Yup, it’s another rich kid skating past the consequences of his actions thanks to a puppet-master, moneybags father! It’s a false assumption: in his ten year playing career, Remy’s total income from baseball was less that today’s single season major league minimum. Jerry Remy isn’t Joe Kennedy—who, by the way, did use his checkbook to make a negligent homicide charge for his wayward son go away, and Massachusetts voter happily continued to elect that lucky boy Senator for the next forty years. There is no evidence, none, that Jerry Remy’s “connections” got his son leniency from the Massachusetts courts, or even that Remy has such connections. Nonetheless, that is what the mob want to believe.
The attack on the legal assistance Remy provided his son is especially heinous. Essentially, the argument is that Remy had an obligation, if he hired a lawyer for his son at all, to get a public defender, or at least a lesser legal talent to minimize the chances that his son would escape punishment. It is certainly a systemic problem that all defendants can’t have the best of legal defenses, but faulting a parent who can afford strong representation for his son and who avails himself of it betrays a lack of comprehension of the principles our justice system stands for. The state must be forced to prove its charges. Judges decide when leniency is appropriate, not mobs. Remy’s lawyer, Peter Bella, denies that his client, Jared Remy, received special treatment because his father was especially wealthy or President of Red Sox Nation. Naturally, he refuses to apologize for defending Jared successfully. In an interview with Lawyer’s Weekly, Bella said:
“I don’t think any of the judges did what they did because it was me standing there. I’d like to think what I did was present them information that led them to conclude that whatever decision they made was the reasonable one given all of the circumstances…But you wonder if there was something else I could have done, not differently in terms of getting the best possible result for my client, but in wondering if there was something I could have steered [Jared] into – another program. Is there something I could have said to him, not necessarily an attorney to a client, but as an older adult who has seen some of these things, to say: ‘Hey, look, live your life the right way.’”
It is certainly human for everyone involved to wonder, in hindsight, if there was something they could have done better or differently. For uninvolved onlookers to declare with certitude that of course the Remys were complicit in the murder committed by their son because they should have handled him differently is hindsight bias of the worst kind. Applying hindsight bias to something as uncertain as child-rearing, and particularly the oversight of an emotionally troubled child, is as ethically offensive as it is obnoxious. There is no indication that the Remys didn’t do everything they could to guide Jared to a productive adulthood. They accepted the mother of his child and their granddaughter into the family; they provided, by all accounts, unconditional love. Remy addressed the issue in a recent interview:
“We were well aware what was going on with Jared and we tried our best to do everything along the way to get him as much help as he possibly could. And then for a stretch it seemed like he had his life in order and then of course everything caved in and we felt as parents… did we enable him? Yes, we paid for lawyers, we paid for a psychiatrist, we paid for the help that we thought he needed. I think a lot of families would have done the same thing….Others would have thrown him out into the street, but that just wasn’t our way. When you look back on it, was it the right thing to do? I don’t have an answer to that. I really don’t have an answer for that.”