Cubs shortstop Addison Russell

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Russell Must Meet Highest Standard -- Or Be Gone

Theo Epstein detailed how the Cubs are confronting domestic violence issues.

February 12, 2019 - 3:27 pm
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(670 The Score) In a lengthy response to the future of suspended shortstop Addison Russell, Cubs president of Theo Epstein on Tuesday afternoon laid out the steps the organization is taking to confront domestic violence and why they've chosen to help Russell through his personal wrongdoing regarding such issues instead of parting ways with him already.

Russell received a 40-game suspension in September for violating the league's joint domestic violence policy after his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, detailed abuse by him. Russell chose not to appeal the suspension and won't be eligible to play in the regular season until early May, though nothing is guaranteed as he's working on a "conditional second chance" with the Cubs, Epstein said.

Epstein made clear that Russell has a lot of personal rehabilitation left to meet the organization's standards while also adding that, to date, Russell has approached the matter with the proper attitude.

"I stayed in good contact with Addison," Epstein said of the offseason. "I think I said at (Cubs) Convention, we were in the top of the second inning with this process. As we get here this week and start , now we’re in the bottom of the second inning. We still have a long way to do. Addison is well aware he has been given a conditional second chance by this organization. There are a lot of standards we’re going to hold him to. He has to continue to put the work in to become a better person, a better citizen, a better teammate, a better member of society, a better father.

"The good news to report at this early juncture is that he’s really taking things to heart. He has put a significant amount of work in. He has fully and enthusiastically complied with everything Major League Baseball has put in front of him as far as therapy and counseling going forward. Beyond that, he’s reached out on his own to engage with a therapist, someone he’s still in contact with three to four times a week. And that relationship will continue long after the mandated therapy is done."

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Russell is already at spring training and will speak to the media before the Cubs’ first full-squad workout at spring training next week, which Epstein called "an important step." 

Russell will be a full participant in spring training.

"I believe you’ll see someone who takes full accountability for what’s happened and will be happy to share with you the work that he’s putting in," Epstein said. 

"As long as Addison continues to put that work in and continues to meet the standards we’ve laid out for him, then we’ll support him on this path."

The Cubs remain in regular contact with Melisa and are giving her "the resources she needs as well," Epstein said. The organization also has listened to and worked with local domestic violence prevention organizations to address the issue, such as Family Rescue, which is based in Chicago. The Cubs have provided financial support for Family Rescue, Epstein said. 

The Cubs are also enhancing their 20-year relationship with the House of Good Shepherd, a domestic violence recovery facility, Epstein added. The Cubs have given a "capital commitment to build a safe space for kids who are living on their campus," Epstein said. 

"We took our pledge to become a small part of the solution very seriously," Epstein said. 

As part of their approach, the Cubs are requiring every employee in this organization to go through what Epstein called "enhanced" domestic violence training. That include big league players, coaches, staff members and front office members as well as minor league players, minor league coaches, minor league staff members and more. Around 130 Cubs employees have already undergone such training, Epstein said.

Cubs employees who work directly and regularly with players’ families are also going through more rigorous domestic violence training in the form of a 40-hour program, Epstein said. A member who travels with the team will also undergo such training.

"Experts say you can never say domestic violence will never happen again, but you can still take every step necessary to ensure this is the safest possible workplace so that we have the smallest possible chance of any domestic violence occurring within these walls," Epstein said.

As for Russell, Epstein was asked if would’ve been easier to cut ties with him.

"I don’t want to characterize anything related to domestic violence as easy," Epstein said. "I will say I understand people who are critical of the approach we decided to take. I have a number of people who I trust and share things with and bounce things off, people who have moral compasses that are as good as they come and people I really respect. And I’d say about half of those people really embrace the position we’ve taken. They think digging in and trying to make a difference is the right way to go. And then the other half think we should’ve just cut bait and moved on. We do know that we send a message to our fans with every action that we take and that cutting bait sends a simpler, stronger message.

“I personally think we’re doing the right thing. I understand people who are upset and think we should’ve just moved on. But I can at least pledge to those people that we’re taking this on earnestly, that it’s important to us and that they’re not just words, they’re actions. And I will continue to be transparent with you and with our fans about everything that we’re doing to try to attack this problem of domestic violence and that we will continue to hold Addison to incredibly high standards or he won’t play a regular-season game as a Chicago Cub ever again."

The Cubs tendered Russell a contract on Nov. 30, though under the condition he "continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues," as Epstein said in a statement at the time. Russell then avoided arbitration in January by reaching a one-year, $3.4-million deal with the Cubs for 2019.

Russell, 25, posted a slash line of .250/.317/.340 over 110 games last season, posting five home runs and 38 RBIs. He has played four MLB seasons, all with the Cubs, and was an All-Star shortstop in 2016.