Wearing his Cubs cap and a “Whole Squad Ready” spring training sweatshirt, Addison Russell sat before the media (full video) in Mesa to address his domestic violence suspension and ongoing counseling protocol. Despite cracking an easy smile when he first took his seat and smirking at times throughout, Russell appeared to be on edge during the Q&A.
His answers were halting at times, the kind of practice a skeptic might consider a diligent effort to remember a carefully rehearsed script. He certainly wasn’t reading directly from a prepared statement, but the frequently repeated talking points made it clear Russell’s camp had drilled him thoroughly for the brief press conference.
“These last few months have been a productive few months,” Russell said. “I’ve been doing the league-mandated treatment and also participating in voluntary counseling as well. Through that counseling, I have learned to better identify my feelings and emotions.
“Learning how to handle adversity and challenges whenever I’m faced with them, and creating healthier relationships with Melisa (Reidy, his ex-wife) and Mallory (Engstrom, the mother of his first child) for the benefit of our children.”
I’m not sure the words do it justice and I fully admit to having a more critical eye from being among Russell’s detractors, but watching this reminded me of how TV shows and movies will portray athletes as being unable to act. It’s as though he’d memorized a series of lines and was just cycling through them to decide which to regurgitate in response to the given question.
That sense didn’t improve when he was asked about why he initially denied the reports that he had abused his then-wife.
“I’ve had time to reflect and through counseling I have a better understanding of what domestic abuse really is. And I am committed to my work right now, that’s my main focus and already I see the benefits that come within that with my family and my children.”
Note that this isn’t a direct admission of any sort, he’s only that he apparently didn’t understand what domestic abuse was when he issued statements vehemently denying the allegations. Not that we should have expected any specifics one way or the other, as Russell wouldn’t want to spur any legal investigation into his past actions.
“My teammates have shown nothing but support for me and my family,” he responded when asked about how he’s been received in the clubhouse.” I think through this whole process, the person who has been inflicted the most in this process is Melisa.
“And what I want to say to everyone here today and also to her is that I want to own those action and I’m sorry for…the hurt that I have caused Melisa and the pain that I put her through. And I am trying my best efforts to become a better person.”
Pressed again about specifics of the allegations of physical and emotional abuse, he opted to swap more general statements in place of details.
“I don’t want to get into any specifics, but what I do wanna say is I am accountable for my past actions,” Russell said. “I’m not proud of the person that I was, but I do wanna own this issue and take responsibility for the hurt and the pain that I’ve caused Melisa. And for that I am sorry.”
Russell was again pressed on specifics and asked whether this meant there was no longer any denial of the allegations that have been brought forth.
“I wanna own my actions,” He said, parroting Joe Maddon’s slogan for the season. “I wanna be accountable for the hurt that I put Melisa through the and pain that she went through. That’s what I wanna own.”
Russell admitted to letting Cubs fans and the organization down and talked about how the work he’s done has already yielded positive results at home. His carefully curated Instagram account would seem to back that up. And, scripted or no, it was at least good to hear him say he wasn’t interested in using his upbringing or experience as an excuse.
“My past behaviors were wrong and unacceptable. And I’m doing everything in my power to become a better person. I realize through counseling that I am taking the necessary steps to become a better person.”
Listen, I could continue to transcribe the rest of this thing, but it should be evident by now that it’s pretty much a time loop in which the same canned responses are being offered up time and again. Of course, that’s often how these things go to an extent. What Russell presented Friday, however, was like a microwave burrito that was still frozen in the middle.
Although such an analogy indicates at least a little warmth on the outside, which wasn’t evident at all in what I saw and heard. It all felt very cold and emotionless, like someone who was trying to say what he thought would sound good to other people, but who wasn’t quite able to pull off the look. And while I certainly have no idea whether and how much the Cubs worked with Russell on this, it feels like yet another swing and miss for a PR machine that has taken a beating this winter.
Regardless of how poorly Russell came off and to what extent you believe this latest episode in their months-long shitshow hurts the organization, I must say that I hope there is some real sincerity beneath the thin veneer. That’s got nothing to do with the Cubs or with Russell’s continued ability to make millions of dollars playing baseball, it’s about him being a decent human being .
I truly hope that he is willing to get better for the sake of his children and the women in his life, because that is far more important than him getting back on the field in any capacity. And while I don’t believe the Cubs need to be part of that process as his employer, I do understand and respect what seems to be a genuine desire to be part of the greater solution.
Which means being open and honest about the topic of domestic violence, whether it’s with specific cases like Russell’s or the the general scourge in our society. It also means me writing about not being content with this press conference even though I can guarantee there’ll be angry responses from readers who feel it needs to be put to bed.
I’m all for second chances, but they need to be earned and not just handed out like candy at Halloween. If Russell proves that he’s truly a changed man, I’ll be more than happy to congratulate him on it.
But as much as I’m sure the Cubs — or at least Russell — felt Friday’s Q&A session put paid to the matter, it’s far from over. It’ll actually never be over if you view the rehabilitation of his character in the same manner as an addict practicing sobriety. You take it one day at a time and it’s hard work and you have to have people around to hold you accountable.
Though they’d tried in the past, the Cubs were unable to hold Russell to that standard of accountability years ago. Maybe there’s no way they could have, and I am certainly not indicating that they were aware of anything other than his love of the nightlife and his inability to keep it in his pants. But as this whole deal has continued to spiral downward, it’s fair to ask questions.
Maybe this brief presser represents the rock bottom of the whole affair and it’s only up from here. Maybe everyone involved looks at it and goes, “Wow, we really do need to do better.” After all, that falls under the umbrella of the whole part of the solution thing. I certainly hope that’s the case, because heaven help us if there’s more to go before it reaches bedrock.