With Addison Russell, Cubs are no longer lovable

The Chicago Cubs and Addison Russell just can’t stop dropping the ball when it comes to his domestic abuse suspension.

For about as long as the franchise has existed, the Chicago Cubs have been one of Major League Baseball’s most lovable teams. Lovable Losers, some might say. The Cubs were always the fun team that played afternoon baseball all summer long in a quaint old ballpark in one of Chicago’s quirkier neighborhoods. They were never a threat to win but on rare occasions that the stars aligned perfectly, every baseball fan could agree that the Cubs were the antithesis of the evil New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Something’s changing in Wrigleyville, and it has nothing to do with the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series and ending their century-long drought.

The Cubs have been swept up in one of Major League Baseball’s saddest annual traditions — superstars behaving badly towards their domestic partners. For all the lip service the league has paid to taking domestic assault cases seriously, seeing a star’s name flash across the ticker with an assault charge and subsequent suspension remains all too commonplace.

Here’s a list of all the players who have been accused of domestic abuse over the past five seasons: Jose Reyes, Aroldis Chapman, Miguel Sano, Hector Olivera, Jung-ho Kang, Yasiel Puig and Roberto Osuna. All but Olivera are still in the league, and his blackballing had more to do with being a struggling 31-year-old Cuban import. Kang was accused of sexual assault, went home to South Korea, got his third DUI and is still playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Once was bad enough, and the Cubs faced plenty of backlash from their fans after trading for All-Star closer Chapman during their World Series year. Chapman had already served his suspension for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing a gun in his garage. Perhaps the Ricketts family and Theo Epstein justified the trade to themselves by viewing it strictly as a rental. Still it was not a great message to send by trading away a consensus top-five prospect in Gleyber Torres for a player with that type of baggage.

In light of the considerable backlash that came with the Chapman trade, the Cubs should have learned their lesson when it comes to handling cases of domestic abuse. Apparently not.

Years from now, public relations professors will use the Cubs’ handling of the Addison Russell assault case and subsequent suspension as a case study in how not to handle an ugly situation. Russell was accused last summer of persistent domestic abuse of his wife, Melissa Reidy, in a long, detailed blog post on her website. Reidy recounted years of abuse in shocking detail. Russell initially denied any of it was true — and why not, as the league had initially investigated him in June 2017 for similar allegations — before backtracking, issuing a half-hearted apology and accepting his 40-game suspension from the league.

Of course, the Cubs stood by their man. Epstein said:

“He accepted this discipline, and I want to talk to him about what that means and find out more — and the victim, first and foremost, deserves our outreach and our support, and that will be forthcoming very quickly. Addy, in my opinion, should not just be completely dismissed. He deserves our support and help going forward, too.”

Here’s manager Joe Maddon’s take last September:

“Anybody can write anything they want these days with social media, blogging, etc. So I’m just going to wait for it to play its course, and then I’ll try to disseminate the information based on both sides, MLB itself, along with the players’ union and getting together with Addison and his former wife, and then I’ll read the information to try to form my own opinions.”

Yikes — and that’s coming from one of the more progressive managers in the league today.

With Russell being accused not once but twice of domestic abuse in two years, no one would have batted an eye if they chose to release the career .242/.313/.391 hitter. But that would have been too easy. Instead, the Cubs kept Russell, shielded him from media scrutiny and have begun holding him up as a potential redemption story.

Russell got to sit down for a puff piece with hard-hitting journalist Bob Nightengale of USA Today. The team has also threatened members of the media to take it easy on Russell. The threats were documented by writers from multiple outlets. The team denies any threats were made to writers, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Throughout the entire ordeal, the Cubs have continued doubling down on their support of Russell. His return to the big leagues this week was no different.

That is quite an interesting quote. For those not familiar with the backstory, actor Terry Crews is an advocate for women’s rights and domestic abuse survivors because he grew up in an abusive household and was later sexually assaulted early in his career by a movie executive. His journey is certainly inspiring, but it has nothing to do with rehabilitating your public image after a domestic abuse suspension.

Russell can’t control what comes out of his general manager’s mouth, but he can control his own words. He is one of the least-liked athletes in the league, and should have been ready to receive a healthy dose of booing upon his return to the league. Again — apparently not.

“I’m a baseball player for the Chicago Cubs. I’m one of the dudes in this clubhouse. I’m one of the guys who goes out there and puts his [body] on the line. We do it because we love it. We want to win, and we want to bring another championship to Chicago. And if hometown fans want to boo someone that’s trying to help bring the team a World Series again, then that’s on them.”

Tone deaf. Tone deaf. Tone deaf. From every level of the organization down to the player. The Cubs have continued to trip all over their feet throughout this entire situation, and it has taken so much shine away from an organization that had finally won a World Series and put together a consistent winner.

With their World Series win and subsequent return trips to the playoffs, the Cubs should have cemented their status as the MLB’s good guys to root for. Instead, they’ve gone from lovable losers to just flat-out losers in the eyes of many fans, including their own. No amount of mental gymnastics should rationalize the continued employ and support of a player who abused his wife, showed little remorse and continues to treat the backlash he receives dismissively.

The Cubs have made their bed, and now must sleep in it. So long as Addison Russell continues to occupy a roster spot, he will serve as a black mark upon the franchise and a constant reminder that sometimes winning isn’t everything.

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