I have some advice for Cubs fans, though I have a pretty good idea I’m wasting my breath:
Don’t cheer for Addison Russell when he returns to Wrigley Field after serving a 40-game suspension for domestic violence.
Don’t give him a rousing welcome when he comes to the plate for the first time.
Don’t send the message that domestic abuse is OK.
Even if that’s not the message you mean to send, trust me, that’s what it will sound like.
I’m not suggesting you boo Russell when he returns to Wrigley, which could be as early as May 3 against the Cardinals. But you sure as hell shouldn’t cheer him after his Major League Baseball-imposed suspension for domestic violence is over. To do so would be an insult to all the women who have been abused and all the women who are being abused.
And, yet, my experience tells me you’ll cheer him anyway.
If you’re anything like every other group of American sports fans, you’ll probably greet Russell with open arms and strained vocal cords.
I don’t like to put words in fans’ mouths, especially when those words are rahs, but I’ve seen and heard this too many times.
My faith in the judgment of people packed together in a building was officially lost when the crowd at the 2003 Teen Choice Awards gave Kobe Bryant a standing ovation for being voted favorite male athlete. The ovation was notable because, a month earlier, the Lakers star had turned himself into police after a 19-year-old woman had accused him of raping her. The case was dropped when the woman refused to testify against him, but the two sides reached a settlement after she brought a civil suit against him.
Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation, folks.
So Russell and Cubs fans? I fear the worst. I fear cheers, encouragement and amnesia. That’s how it almost always goes. It’s how it went when Aroldis Chapman took the mound for the first time as a Cub at Wrigley in 2016. The Cubs had traded for the closer, who had served a suspension that season for domestic abuse after being accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight bullets in a rage in his garage.
Chapman was cheered like a returning hero at Wrigley. I believe Russell will be, too.
And so it goes in American sports.
I don’t think the cheering of troubled athletes is about forgiveness or compassion. The cheers say more about our country’s fascination with stardom, about the way people swoon if a professional athlete’s shadow passes over them. They choose to see the extraordinary skills, not the ugly behavior. They choose to see the player who can help their team win. When fans stand shoulder to shoulder at a game, when they’re giddy about the prospect of cheering on their team, they choose to forget the pesky details of an athlete’s transgressions.
In Russell’s case, the transgressions involved the mistreatment of his ex-wife. In December, Melisa Reidy disclosed to a baseball website, Expanded Roster, that Russell had physically abused her, including at least once when he was holding their son, Aiden.
“He kicked the door down and ripped Aiden out of my arms,’’ she said. “I’m following him, like … please give him to me, I’m nervous. I don’t think he’s going to hurt [Aiden], but he’s drunk.’’
She said Russell grabbed her and threw her across the room, all while he was holding Aiden with one arm.
Any cheering for Russell the baseball player will seem like cheering for Russell the abuser. Some of you might argue that applause would show admiration for a man trying to work through his problems via counseling. I’m not buying it. If you were in Grant Park and someone announced that the city employee emptying the garbage can had been guilty of slapping around his wife, would you lead everyone in a standing ovation because he’s seeing a counselor once a week?
I didn’t think so.
But a Cub with some pop in his bat? Be still your heart.
Think before you cheer. Think about what it says. Think about how it might sound to someone who has been through domestic abuse. It might feel like another punch in the face.
I’ve been agitating for the Cubs to move Russell from shortstop to second base for more than two years. It looks like his long absence has finally opened the team’s eyes to the obvious — that Javy Baez is the better shortstop, not to mention the best fielder on the roster.
That’s still important, just not as important as Russell’s impending return. The most important thing is how Russell acts off the field — and how he has acted in the past. Try to remember that.