To err may be human, and to forgive may be divine, but both have their limits and liabilities. Addison Russell is both, and the Chicago Cubs may have reached their limit.
Russell already faces the final 29 games of a forty-game suspension that began in September, thanks to the domestic assault his now former wife described in a September blog post. It embarrassed the Cubs no end especially after manager Joe Maddon said at first that he hadn’t read the post. But it’s gone from embarrassing to worse.
The shortstop who was a significant element in the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship season may face worse now that the former Mrs. Russell, Melisa Reidy, has given an interview (to Expanded Roster) detailing what she suffered from him in further, harrowing detail. What began as a sweet love devolved too quickly into suspicion, infidelity, and finally violence.
The suspension notwithstanding, the Cubs tendered Russell a 2019 contract anyway. Fansided writer David Hill is hardly the only one to wonder just how much of the nightmare Reidy describes now the Cubs knew going in. “Or,” Hill continues, “how many of the details given in the interview were known to Major League Baseball when Russell was handed his 40 game suspension. Then again, how much did the Cubs, or MLB for that matter, truly want to discover?”
Chicago Sun-Times writer Gordon Wittenmyer has an answer. “The specifics were not news to either MLB or the Cubs, who reached out to Reidy and others in the aftermath of the league investigation in their own fact-finding efforts and to seek input for their decision on how to proceed internally with Russell,” he writes.
Indeed, Wittenmyer cites Cubs president Theo Epstein as suggesting Russell’s days as a Cub may be numbered according to certain factors. “Before he can play another game in a Cubs uniform,” Epstein says, “we need to know that he’s serious about self-improvement and has grown to the point where he can represent the club well.”
Russell is in an MLB-mandated program of therapy and “re-education” (Wittenmyer’s word) and has even hired a personal therapist. If his former wife’s recollections are true he’ll need more than that. A man who explodes against his wife while she holds their infant son, or tears the infant out of her arms after kicking down a door, or throws her to the floor while holding the infant and missing her head hitting a coffee table by inches, needs more than routine therapy.
And he may yet need to find another line of work. The Cubs already took a hot water bath when they added Aroldis Chapman for their 2016 championship run, but that was after Chapman served a domestic violence suspension with the Yankees (to whom he’s since returned), and in Chapman’s case prosecutors refused to take the case forward citing conflicting accounts and insufficient evidence.
When the Astros dealt for Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna for their run back to the postseason, Osuna was in the middle of a domestic violence suspension. The suspension ended 5 August and the case in court was withdrawn after the woman refused to travel from Mexico to testify. The Astros were broiled in the sports press for making the trade, but as with Chapman the case was thwarted in the end.
But Russell’s former wife speaks in too harrowing detail of what she suffered, even though the couple is divorced and no known court action pends in their instance. It’s worse than what torpedoed the football career of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was caught on an elevator video attacking his then-fiancee and released by the Ravens when the video became too widely circulated. Rice didn’t have an infant son in the middle of that fateful rage.
Rice hit the news again this season when the Kansas City Chiefs cut running back Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s leading rusher last year, after a video surfaced of Hunt attacking a woman last February, an incident about which the Chiefs said Hunt lied to the team. Rice’s then-fiancee is now his wife. And they sat for a CBS This Morning interview together in which Rice spoke candidly about how he was purged from football and came to have no regrets about the purge.
“One of the underlying issues for me,” said Rice, who admitted to having too many personal problems—including witnessing several similar incidents in which his mother was a victim—even before he began his football career, “was—I never wanted to ask for help. Football, for me, was my counseling. It was my therapy. It was my psychologist. It was my everything.”
It was the proverbial recipe for the disaster of attacking his future wife. The acclaim Rice received in his football life, from college All-American to a Super Bowl ring, couldn’t immunise him from his self or his misdeed. He’s aware that Hunt has apologised for his crime but he knows that isn’t even close to enough, nor is merely expressing remorse for domestic violence survivors. “I’ll continue to do that,” said Rice, referring to remorse over domestic violence, “because I know now from doing the work, how gruesome it is.”
Rice was genuinely contrite as things turned out. (The NFL looked foolish for docking him a mere two games before the video emerged; commissioner Roger Goodell was compelled to apologise for such leniency.) When Rice was finally released from the Ravens, he never once thought he didn’t have it coming. He’s never tried to return to football since, other than to work as a youth coach.
“My job is to lead my family, my job is to lead my wife, my job is to lead in whatever I do,” he said with Janay at his side after his original suspension. “And if I’m not being the example, then my family crumbles.” Ask him today, as CBS This Morning did, and he’ll say of himself then, “I hate that person.” It’s very fair to say that if his contrition and his work since, on himself and on behalf of domestic violence eradication, wasn’t sincere, Mrs. Rice wouldn’t still be Mrs. Rice.
Russell issued a written statement through his attorneys in which he spoke of “a lot of work ahead for me to earn back the trust of the Cubs fans, my teammates, and the entire organization . . . work that I am 110 percent committed to doing.” He didn’t place his family (his young son with Reidy, plus a child he fathered with another woman prior to having a son with Reidy) at the top of that order. He said only that “after gaining a full understanding of the situation” did he accept the suspension and “wish[ed] my ex-wife well and hope we can live in peace for the benefit of our child.”
It was language as impersonal as Rice’s was direct and very personal, and Rice wasn’t yet a husband, never mind a father, when the crime he wishes he’d never committed happened. The Cubs ought to keep that very much in mind as Ms. Reidy’s newest, more in depth revelations of just what she and their little son suffered at Russell’s hands take hold.
The right to work doesn’t equal the right to a particular line of work. That was one argument levied against the Astros when they traded for a still-suspended Osuna, and they’re still not entirely off the hook until or unless Osuna proves he’s a very changed man regarding his treatment of women.
It’s an argument the Cubs shouldn’t dismiss considering how very much worse Russell’s case is. The optics, as they call it, looked bad enough when they tendered him a 2019 contract despite his suspension. They look worse in the light of his former wife’s harrowing revelations since. Some call domestic violence a disease instead of a crime. If that’s true, Addison’s disease is the Cubs’ nightmare as well as his former wife’s.