Amy Kaufman, ex-wife of sportswriter Jonah Keri, shares her story of domestic violence. She hopes it will help others better understand victims.
Warning: This story contains graphic details of intimate partner violence.
Baseball’s policy on domestic violence and sexual assault covers 70 paragraphs. Victim support is limited to five of those paragraphs.
The policy was negotiated between the commissioner’s office and the players union, with confidentiality at its foundation. The process often is distilled into a stream of carefully crafted statements and social media posts, and then we move on.
That can be true for victims too. Under the policy, Major League Baseball offers to connect victims and families with shelters, outreach facilities, experts in domestic violence and family counseling, and with a 24-hour hotline staffed with English and Spanish speakers.
As a baseball community, would our attitudes toward domestic violence change if we heard more stories and fewer statements?
Could how fans feel about a player suspended for domestic violence depend largely on how valuable he is to their favorite team? Should MLB subsidize a family dependent on the income of a suspended player? For a player — or a coach, executive, broadcaster or writer — how many strikes should you get before you are thrown out of baseball?
No one should be compelled to tell his or her story. Amy Kaufman would like to share hers.
Her abuser worked for a media outlet whose parent company also owns the Toronto Blue Jays. He was suspended upon his arrest and later dismissed. In baseball, cases of domestic violence and sexual assault need not involve players. Sixteen major leaguers have been suspended under the MLB policy, most recently the Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer, whose appeal is underway.
The answers cannot be simple, because the stories are not simple.
You might have heard of Kaufman’s abuser. Jonah Keri wrote a book on the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays, another on the history of the Montreal Expos. Keri, 47, covered baseball for a variety of media outlets, most recently the Athletic and Canada’s Sportsnet, and hosted a podcast for CBS Sports. In March, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison. He is scheduled for an initial parole hearing next month.
You might have seen him in a video that captured him attacking Kaufman in an elevator: butting her head, hitting her, biting her, spitting on her. A few days later, she married him.
“If I call it off,” Kaufman said she thought at the time, “he’s going to kill me.”
Kaufman, 38, and Keri had started a long-distance relationship in 2016, not long after her mother died. Floral bouquets and love letters and romantic vacations quickly followed.
“When times were good,” Kaufman said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “they were somewhat too good to be true.”
Keri soon told Kaufman he was moving from Denver to Montreal to be with her. He did not ask first, she said.
He wanted to meet all her friends. He said he would take away all of her financial stress: She could quit her job and work on his podcast, and he would handle all the money. She had taken care of her sick mother, he said, and now he would take care of her.
All that can sound lovely. But, to experts in domestic violence, that can sound like an alarm.
“Domestic violence at its core is about power and control: exerting power and control over someone,” said Erin Smith, executive director of the Oakland-based Family Violence Appellate Project. “A lot of times, once he knows the friends and family, he can start slowly cutting someone off from them: taking over the communications, taking over the social scheduling, basically making them even more dependent and powerless.
“Domestic violence is about all of that, and not just about physical violence.”
In 2018, Kaufman was pregnant, the wedding was approaching, and she said Keri suddenly started confessing to previous relationships and encounters. He had charmed her, so she had no doubt he had charmed other women.
Complete coverage from the Los Angeles Times of Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer’s 324-game suspension from Major League Baseball.
Yet she became concerned, not because she heard any stories of violence but because of what she perceived as an imbalance in power dynamics with the women involved.
In turn, she said, Keri suggested she had become more interested in shaming him than standing up for him.
The violence started soon after, while she was pregnant and even after she gave birth. In what the Quebec court calls an “agreed statement of facts,” Keri acknowledged 14 incidents in less than seven months, summarized by a Quebec judge in frightening and entirely unadorned words.
“During these incidents,” the judge wrote in his ruling, “the offender punched the victim in the knees, hit her on the head and on her ears, pushed her, dragged her on the ground, slapped her, bit her, spat in her face, head-butted her, shook her, pulled her hair, and grabbed her by the shoulders while threatening to throw her off a balcony.”
Not all the days were filled with violence. Some were filled with peace, some with counseling, some with promises of better days to come.
One of those days was the wedding day. The husband of her best friend approached her with a wedding gift. She was not given a brightly decorated box. She was gifted a $1,000 promise. That, he told her quietly, would cover the first hour with a lawyer when she left the relationship.
She had thought about it, all the time. She had confided in her best friend. That friend had told her: Check in with me every night, or I will send my husband to your home to check on you.
She had started to collect what later would be used as evidence: the elevator video, photographs, voice mails, emails and more than 34,000 text messages. She had gathered this documentation, she told the court, “to try to keep Mr. Keri from getting custody of my baby in the event that he killed me.”
In text messages from that period, Keri’s emotions shifted so unpredictably that Kaufman said the texts left her “completely destabilized.” In one text string, Keri wrote the word “sorry” 17 consecutive times.
In another message, he wrote: “I’m an abuser. If I’m nice for 3 weeks or 3 years you will always jump on me the second I’m not syrupy sweet to you. It’s too much pressure. Find someone else. I wish you all the happiness in the world.”
In a separate message, he wrote: “F— you for making me feel like garbage every day. F— you for ruining me.”
All the while, Keri kept up with his work, at times walking down the hall and into a room, literally flipping a switch and cheerily welcoming listeners to his podcast. Match up dates from the statement of facts to the headlines of Keri’s CBS Sports posts and a portrait emerges of a highly functional abuser.
“September 23-24, 2018: Mr. Keri bites Ms. Kaufman in the face.”
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Sept. 24, 2018, post: “How the Braves went from MLB laughingstock to 2018 NL East champs”
“October 17-18, 2018: Mr. Keri then holds Ms. Kaufman by the head and headbutts her in the nose. They hear a crack and Ms. Kaufman yells that he has broken her nose.”
Oct. 17, 2018, post: “Clayton Kershaw’s margin for error is all but gone, and Game 5 might be his toughest postseason test”
“January 24, 2019: Mr. Keri threatens to kill her as he believes that she will call the police and ruin his life.”
Jan. 25, 2019, post: “MLB free agency: 30 excuses for 30 teams not to sign Bryce Harper and Manny Machado”
What Kaufman learned, she said, is that anger management is not the appropriate treatment if you are the only target for that anger.
“As far as I know, Jonah did not fight anybody in the press box,” she said. “This was behavior that could be controlled, that could be turned on and off.”
Said Smith: “One thing I think courts get wrong sometimes is they’ll have someone do an anger management program instead of a domestic violence program, which is longer and really different. It focuses on taking accountability for exerting power and control for another person.
“It is not because you have a temper.”
On July 17, 2019, Keri slammed her up against a wall at home and held her by her neck. The dog jumped at him, giving her time to escape. She locked herself in a room, logged onto the internet and learned that strangulation is a “significant predictor for future lethal violence.”
She called police the next day. He was arrested.
In the 868 days from arrest to sentencing, according to court records, Keri completed multiple treatment programs. He had two intimate relationships, with no indication of violence in either one. The judge wrote that Keri had taken responsibility for his actions, expressed remorse and appeared “sincerely devastated” about the “irreparable harm” he had caused.
Keri’s attorney asked the judge for probation. The judge said Keri’s efforts at rehabilitation were “commendable.”
“However,” Judge Alexandre Dalmau wrote, “it should be remembered that all of this genuine self-reflection and sincere self-improvement work occurred only after the offender’s arrest and indictment, once his image and his personal and professional reputation were tarnished. … It was not his courage that put an end to the violence against the victim, quite the contrary.”
In what domestic violence experts considered an extraordinary passage in his ruling, Dalmau all but dismissed the 14 character reference letters he had received from Keri’s friends, colleagues and family members.
They had made the statements we all hear, all the time, along these lines, as often told to celebrity chroniclers: “That is not the person I know. The person I know is not capable of that kind of behavior.”
Said Joan Meier, director of the National Family Violence Law Center at George Washington University Law School: “These men present well, the same way they present in the world. And the courts are like, ‘Oh, he can’t be doing that.’ So the women are disbelieved and rejected.
“We’ve been talking about this in the domestic violence field for over 30 years, and the courts still don’t get it: These guys present well, and it doesn’t mean she’s lying.”
Keri presented well, as did those who offered references on his behalf. Dalmau was having none of it.
“It shows,” Dalmau wrote, “how the offender is able to construct an image of himself that is very different from reality.” He called the statements “a perfect illustration of the insidious nature of conjugal violence; it is a tragedy experienced in private.”
Kaufman put it this way: “Being fun to grab a beer with has nothing to do with what you do in your house and in your personal life.”
A baseball player linked to domestic violence can be put on involuntary paid leave during an investigation and can be suspended even in the absence of a criminal conviction, under a policy announced Friday by Major League Baseball and its players’ union.
Dalmau ruled probation would not be appropriate, even with Keri’s remorse and rehabilitation, because his conduct did not involve an isolated act but “repeated acts of violence against a pregnant spouse.” That emphasis was reflected in the sentence: 18 months for assault, death threats and criminal harassment with respect to Kaufman, plus three months for behavior that could have put the health of a child at risk.
Kaufman did not suffer any lasting physical injury, Dalmau wrote, but she was nonetheless hurt.
“The process of healing from such psychological injuries is long and difficult,” Dalmau wrote. “In cases like this, it is much harder for the mind to heal than the body.”
This time is her time to, in her words, “figure out ways to feel safe.”
According to the Quebec parole board, prisoners sentenced to less than two years can be paroled after serving one-third of their sentence.
After serving one-sixth of their sentence, they can apply for a so-called “temporary absence” for such purposes as work, school and family matters. In Keri’s case, one-sixth of the sentence is 3½ months. That means July.
Kaufman finds her power in speaking out. The next victim could get a judge who might be swayed by a smooth presentation. That is a reflection of society.
“People find it really hard to believe that their favorite baseball player or their favorite writer or their favorite actor could possibly do this,” she said, “as opposed to thinking, ‘Wow, it would be really hard to believe that someone would want to come forward and make this up.’ ”
On the day she met with The Times, Kaufman had a morning appointment at a hair salon. When she explained why she was about to be interviewed, the receptionist, the hairdresser, the hair washer and the makeup artist all nodded. Each had been in an abusive relationship.
One in three women has, studies say. Sometimes the violence is physical, sometimes not.
One in three. Help is a phone call away.
“Everything is scarier in the dark,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman is a domestic violence counselor in Montreal now. One day, she answered a call from a woman, a baseball fan, who had heard about the Jonah Keri case. The woman was not sure what to do in her own situation. She wondered aloud what had become of the woman who had been married to Jonah Keri.
“Just so you know, I’m Amy Kaufman, and I was married to Jonah Keri,” Kaufman told the woman. “There are ways out, and you can be OK. And I am very much OK.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day by phone, (800) 799-7233; chat, at thehotline.com; or text message, by texting “START” to 88788.
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