We don’t know Addison Russell — or any other pro athlete

We have no idea if Addison Russell did what he has been accused of doing. But there’s something else that we, the viewing audience, don’t know:

Who he really is.

How could we? The extent of what we do know about him, and what we base our opinion of him on, comes from how he plays for the Cubs, what the team tells us about him and whatever interviews with him we have seen, heard or read.

Aside from the first 10 weeks of this season, he has been a good shortstop, one of the talented young players around whom the Cubs have staked their future. In interviews, he seems earnest, sincere and polite. His answers are usually concise but without a whole lot of substance. But even if there were substance, even if he bared his soul or saved baby seals or danced with the stars, does that mean we can say what kind of person we’re watching on our TVs?

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A friend of Russell’s wife has accused him of being physically abusive to Melisa Russell, who also has accused him of being unfaithful. Major League Baseball is investigating the abuse accusations, which were made on Instagram.

I would guess that 99 percent of the people on social media who are defending Russell as a good person are doing so based on a perception of him acquired from what they’ve seen presented in interviews, from his bright-eyed appearance and through the saintly traits the Cubs have publicly heaped on him the last three years. If there were a Good Guy Draft, the Cubs would have taken Russell over Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. That’s how they have sold him to us, possibly because they believed it. They still might.

But why do we feel the need to assign other attributes besides “excellent hand-eye coordination’’ to a popular athlete? Why isn’t being good at sports enough for us? Whenever a fan favorite gets in trouble or is accused of something ugly, it’s that much more stunning. The fall seems so much farther when teams, fans and media have built up a player to be a Superman at anything he puts his mind to, whether that be power-hitting, parenting, cooking, Ping-Pong, philanthropy, the art of conversation or knitting. Have you seen his herringbone stitch? Sublime!

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo recently proposed to his girlfriend, and you would have thought it was one of the British royals by the response to his Twitter post announcing it. No one in the world has ever been more romantic, apparently. Well, maybe you have, but nobody cares about you. And that’s it, isn’t it? Our existence is mundane, and we’re looking for someone else’s larger existence to save us from our boring lives and the boring lives of those around us.

As some of you might know, the David Ross phenomenon has been beyond my comprehension, but it’s real and it’s massive. People can’t get enough of a backup catcher who played two seasons for the Cubs, and he has parlayed that into a book, a proposed movie, a highly watched stint on “Dancing With the Stars’’ and a broadcasting career. He could end up being the first pro athlete to un-retire to spend more time with his family. Fans see an accessibility in him that they don’t see in many professional athletes. But do we really know him?

After 35 years of doing this, I’m not sure I have any idea of what’s real and what isn’t. In 1999, hours after Falcons defensive back Eugene Robinson had accepted an Athletes in Action award given to the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character, he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. The next day, he played in the Super Bowl. How could so many people have been so wrong about him?

I once wrote an in-depth story about an NFL player who had found Jesus, only to be told the next day that he had recently been seen stuffing money into a stripper’s G-string. How could I have been so wrong?

That athlete you think you know because he has a charitable foundation? He might not be the joy he seems to be.

It can’t be emphasized enough that we don’t know what has gone on behind closed doors between Russell and his wife. It’s probably fair to say that their home life has been rocky, but most of us had no idea that there was trouble in the paradise we had built for him, his wife and two children.

He looks like a nice guy. He seems like a nice guy. He might even be a nice guy. But we don’t really know if he is. Just like we don’t truly know every other professional athlete. Worship them at your own risk.

Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com

 

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