Although I would not expect – realistically – a front office to say anything otherwise at this stage in the process, Cubs President Theo Epstein confirmed that the organization has not unequivocally ruled out a reunion with shortstop Addison Russell, who was suspended for 40 games under the joint domestic violence policy after an investigation into allegations of abuse by his ex-wife.
“We’re very engaged with Addison to verify he’s serious about self-improvement,” Epstein told the media at the start of the GM Meetings, per ESPN. “Everything is an open question. We haven’t made any determinations. The only determination we’ve made is we have to be part of the solution both from an organizational standpoint in supporting the discipline and supporting and exploring a possible road to rehabilitation and improvement.”
Whether the Cubs want Russell on the team in 2019 or not, with nearly a month to go before they have to make a contract tender decision, and with the rest of the offseason to go before Spring Training – all time in which, in theory, a trade could be made – this is the kind of message I would expect.
But Epstein took things a convincing step further.
“This happened on our watch,” Epstein said, per the Sun-Times, “and it’s not like we signed a minor-league free agent and he demonstrated this behavior a month in, and you move on from him. This is somebody that we acquired in double-A. He grew up in large part in our farm system …. We take credit when players grow up and experience great success on and off the field, and we feel proud of playing a small part of that. When a player has something in their life that goes the other direction or does something that you’re not proud of, does that mean you should automatically cut bait and move on and have it be somebody else’s problem, or maybe society’s problem? Or do you explore the possibility of staying connected to that player with the hope of rehabilitation, including a lot of verification along the way?”
This remains a very challenging situation to discuss fairly, thoughtfully, and honestly, while doing so in a way that does not further our society’s previously cavalier attitude toward things like abuse and sexual assault.
One thing I have not acknowledged previously but that I feel I must do so to be fair and comprehensive. I do not think we can know for sure that Addison Russell is utterly beyond redemption. It can happen for some people, and I suppose if it got to that place, I could move on as a fan, regardless of what the Cubs decide to do. It’s just that I haven’t seen or been led to believe there is going to be anything remotely approaching what that level of work would need to be in Russell’s case.
I won’t even pretend to be any kind of expert in knowing exactly what it would need to be, but I know it goes beyond personal change, and somewhere far into making things right however possible or realistic with Melisa, and working publicly toward improvements for others, not just those in this specific situation. Because, as Theo Epstein said at his season ending press conference, “Domestic violence is everyone’s problem and because of that, we all have an obligation to be part of the solution as well. Discipline, in a case like this, is part of the solution going forward …. But prevention is also a big part of the solution and maybe a more important part of the solution.”
This issue is bigger than Addison Russell, and bigger than the Chicago Cubs. But if the Cubs are going to wear the mantle of having retained someone suspended for domestic violence on their watch because they want to see something positive come from it, then they will also bear the consequences if this eventually feels like a situation where a sports organization refused to seriously confront this issue in the spirit of being slightly more competitive on the field.