Preface. Manup is not attempting to publicly support nor shame any of the internal business of the sports franchises implicated in any of these tragedies. We do not take a stand against of the actions the teams have taken in response to domestic violence or sexual misconduct scandals within their organization.
The Bar Has Been Set
September 8th, 2014, superstar running back Ray Rice is released by the Baltimore Ravens. All Ray Rice merchandise, pulled from the shelves. The name Rice, stripped from banners and murals across Ravens facilities. No defending it, Mr. Rice was guilty as accused. Suspended indefinitely, fined heavily and subject to the full force of the impending criminal investigation.
In the years that followed, the Ray Rice narrative has repeated itself over and over again across professional sports in North America. Dozens upon dozens of pro’s being accused of domestic abuse, sexual harassment and rape. This rash of bad behavior amongst athletes is as undiscriminating as it is pervasive. Hockey players, basketball players, football players, soccer players, you name the sport, you’ll find a long list of allegations. You will also find an equally long list of suspensions, releases and terminations.
In November of 2018, Domestic Violence in pro sport was making highlights once again. But this time, it was different. Wait.. wasn’t NFL superstar running back Kareem Hunt guilty of domestic assault and immediately cut by the Kansas City Chiefs? Isn’t that the exact same story as Ray Rice? It is true, November was a month where domestic violence in sport reared its ugly face once again. Yet while Hunt and the Kansas City Chiefs had a firm grasp on the top sport headlines, there was a second story of domestic violence taking place within the Chicago Cubs organization. Specifically, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was accused of domestic violence and assault against his former wife. As expected Russell was suspended indefinitely by the Cubs and by Major League Baseball.
The New Gold Standard?
The curve ball came from Cubs President Theo Epstein and the teams’ response to the actions of their star shortstop. In a public statement addressing fans and sports media, Epstein announced that the Cubs had agreed to extend Addison Russell’s contract with the Chicago Cubs organization. Yes, you read that right, The Cubs no longer had an obligation to retain Russell (following his domestic assault case) but they chose to anyway. In Epstein’s statement, he goes on to explain why. He stated that the Cubs had acquired the rights to Russell when was a young (20 year old) man. He noted that when Russell was acquired, he hadn’t demonstrated any indication of being violent. He had no history of domestic assault. In amazingly courageous and bold statement Epstein rocked the sports management landscape in saying, “This happened under our watch”. He could easily have washed his hands of Russell and cast him out. Instead, he opted to explore how the Cubs could properly address the real issues at hand. He went on to explain that the Cubs are eager to accept credit for accomplishments and accolades of their players when things are going well and that consequently, they must also be prepared to take ownership of the shortcomings and indiscretions of their players when they are struggling.
Could this possibly be a new benchmark for excellence in leadership in the area of healthy masculinity? Could Theo Epstein inspire a new movement of organizational accountability and diligence? If you think that Mr. Epstein and the Chicago Cubs might be onto something, I’d invite you to consider some of the framework he presented as part of his commitment to holding Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs organization accountable to a higher standard of conduct.
Firstly, Epstein has made an organizational and personal commitment to supporting Russell’s ex-wife Melissa. First to listen, to establish a commitment to walking alongside her during her survivorship and then to extend support through various local survivor support organizations.
Secondly, Epstein vowed to hold Russell accountable to his councessing and rehabilitation program and to surround him the highest quality counselling staff (beyond the mandatory league sanctions) so that he has the best possible chance at full restoration and an eventual state of health. Epstein vowed to personally verify Russell’s compliance and to monitor his progress.
Thirdly, Epstein committed to working alongside community organizations to build prevention, detection and victim support models throughout the Chicago Cubs organization. Epstein vowed to provide sexual and domestic Violence prevention training to all staff, players and their families in a proactive attempt to prevent further incidence.
Epstein and the Cubs are setting a new tone for their Club and its operations. They found themselves in a bad situation but instead of brushing it aside, they are dealing with it head on. They are helping mitigate the damages from the attacks, they are helping rehabilitate the survivors and the perpetrator and they are building prevention and detection programs to prevent further tragedy with their organization. This sounds alot like what we would call “Manning Up”.