Cubs sending wrong message by leaving door open for Addison Russell
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Addison Russell can’t be in a Cubs uniform anymore. He just can’t be.
Those were the first words of a column I wrote in September, after the shortstop’s ex-wife detailed the abuse she said she had suffered at his hands.
It turns out I was wrong. Russell can be in a Cubs uniform because the Cubs say he can. They tendered him a contract Friday, the message be damned.
But I was right, at least where it matters most. Russell lost the privilege of being in a Cubs uniform when he repeatedly abused his then-wife. The contract development can’t change that. You engage in the heinousness of domestic abuse, you don’t deserve to represent the Cubs anymore. There are lines that never should be crossed. That’s a big one.
But it’s not how these Cubs roll. Amid lengthy statements released by Russell and team president Theo Epstein on Friday was a simple, unpleasant idea:
If we think you can play, you can stay.
It’s noble that the Cubs say they want to use Russell’s troubles as a springboard to address domestic violence. It’s wonderful that they say they feel responsible for walking with Russell during his counseling, especially after they strutted with him when he was helping them win the 2016 World Series.
But where is it written that he has to play baseball? You can walk with Russell and not allow him to be on the team. The actions aren’t mutually exclusive.
It would have been nobler if the Cubs had announced they were setting up a foundation to help abused women and to educate the public about the issue. It would have been commendable if they had said they were going continue to stand by Russell as he worked to change his behavior.
It would have been truly inspirational if they had done this while announcing he would no longer be a Cub.
Then again, it would have been nice if they had taken positive, affirming steps when they traded for closer Aroldis Chapman, who had served an MLB suspension for domestic violence, in 2016. But he could throw a ball 105 mph, and . . . what chokehold on his girlfriend?
It was the Cubs’ unfortunate timing that the Russell development came three days after linebacker/woman abuser Reuben Foster, cut by the 49ers after a recent domestic-violence incident, was claimed by the Redskins. It caused a national uproar. Foster had been charged with battery on the same woman for the second time in 10 months, but that didn’t deter a football team that thought a talented player had redeeming value.
It’s amazing how thoughtful teams are when it comes to improving their rosters.
At least one sports franchise has done the right thing. On Friday, the Chiefs cut star running back Kareem Hunt after video emerged of him kicking and shoving a woman. Hmm. Can he play left field?
Epstein went out of his way to detail the changes Russell had made since MLB suspended him 40 games late last season.
‘‘We are taking the procedural step of tendering Addison a non-guaranteed contract in conjunction with Major League Baseball’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players,’’ Epstein said in his statement. ‘‘While this decision leaves the door open for Addison to later make an impact for us on the field, it does not represent the finish line nor rubber-stamp his future as a Cub. It does, however, reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues.’’
Would the Cubs have wanted to be part of the solution to the domestic-violence problem if another team had been willing to trade for Russell? There’s no way of knowing.
I’m not discounting the idea that Epstein feels deeply about this. Perhaps the easiest thing would have been to cut Russell. There would have been no backlash over having an abuser on the roster. And Javy Baez is a better shortstop than Russell. Epstein seems to want to address domestic violence head-on. But it’s hard to separate his compassion from the Cubs’ desire to win another World Series.
At a minimum, this is a bad look. It says actions don’t matter. It says women, some of whom root for the Cubs, aren’t quite as important as a good-fielding shortstop. No amount of words can alter that message.
I hope Russell gets the help he needs and his ex-wife finds peace. But both can happen without him being in a Cubs uniform.