Addison Russell spoke to the press in Mesa today for the first time since he was suspended for 40 games under MLB’s domestic violence policy. He was suspended in October after his ex-wife Melisa Reidy posted about her experiences while married to the Cubs shortstop. That initial blog post jump started an MLB investigation into Russell’s behavior that had previously stalled in 2017.
Over the course of the offseason Reidy has been more outspoken about the abuse she experienced during her relationship with Russell in a series of interviews with ESPN, the Athletic and ultimately, Expanded Roster. These interviews have added a lot of details, some of them incredibly disturbing, to what started in June 2017 as a third party allegation by a friend of Reidy’s on Instagram.
As more details have emerged many Cubs fans have expressed shock and disappointment that Russell was tendered a non-guaranteed contract. Fans also expressed concerns about the details of that contract as well as disbelief at the Cubs' audacious plan to attempt to be “part of the solution” as Russell faces his suspension and therapy.
Friday was the first time Russell has addressed the media in person since he was placed on Administrative Leave in September.
As someone who has covered this story closely I’m not sure that I was expecting Russell’s press conference to move fans in their opinions in any significant way, but I was interested in finally hearing from Russell on the allegations, the process and what (if any) steps he’s taking to move forward. While there were a lot of questions asked of Russell over a little less than 20 minutes, the answers I’ve been searching for in this situation were nowhere to be found in Mesa.
I will not pretend to know how hard it is to face the media on a complicated issue, but as others have noted, Russell came off as monotone and his answers lacked affect. He repeated certain phrases over and over again, specifically stressing that he was “taking accountability for his actions,” “working to become a better person,” that he was “not proud of his past actions,” and that he was “sorry for his actions.”
To his credit, he stressed the impact of his actions on Melisa at least seven times, explicitly stating that she was the person most impacted by his behavior. However, it was never particularly clear what behavior he was owning up to, or even when he knew specific actions were wrong. In fact, there were very few specifics during the entire press conference beyond when he first entered therapy (two to three weeks before the 2018 season ended, which would be after he was placed on leave in September), the names of the exes who were impacted by his behavior (Melisa and Mallory, although the latter was only referenced once) and confirmation that is is currently in a relationship (which he described as “a great relationship... a loving relationship.” He characterized that relationship with terms like respect, empathy and support).
In general terms. Russell repeatedly thanked the Cubs organization and his teammates for their support. He stressed his commitment towards improvement and the process. He acknowledged the importance of communication and empathy. These points were stressed so frequently that there were numerous comments on the live feed and on social media that he sounded coached and seemed to be relying on talking points. It came off that way to me as well, even though he was not using any notes, particularly given that those talking points closely match what Theo Epstein stressed in his press conference on Tuesday:
He needs to put the work in to be a better person, a better teammate, a better father...he understands he needs to put in the work. He’s enthusiastically embraced therapy. He’ll speak to the media before player camp starts and will be happy to share with you the work he has put in.
Theo emphasized on Tuesday that the Cubs were in the equivalent of the bottom of the second inning in terms of the future of their relationship with Addison Russell. After watching his press conference today I agree that there is a long way to go in evaluating the future of this relationship. You can watch the entirety of the press conference via the Periscope feed from NBC Sports Chicago at this link, or via the tweet below: