In the aftermath of Addison Russell's suspension for violating baseball's domestic violence policy, the Chicago Cubs decided to put their staff through enhanced training.
Family Rescue, an organization that works to curb domestic violence by supporting victims and advocating for change, conducted wide-ranging sessions with the club's front and back office employees that touched on everything from the dynamics of domestic violence to their experiences with fans at Wrigley Field and their personal lives.
"We talked about being an upstander, a person that would in safe ways intervene and make a statement and not just stand by and say nothing, do nothing," Family Rescue executive director Joyce Coffee said, "because domestic violence thrives in an atmosphere of silence."
From the preseason training all the way to its ongoing work with Family Rescue and House of the Good Shepherd, another domestic violence organization in Chicago, the Cubs' response to Russell's suspension continues on the brink of his return to the majors.
The 25-year-old Russell was optioned to Triple-A Iowa after he completed his 40-game suspension last week, but he isn't expected to stay there for very long.
"Not too much longer because he is a major league player, as long as everything is going well," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "You don't want him sitting down there so long that it starts becoming almost negative regarding his development."
Russell was suspended after a series of allegations made by his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy. Without getting into specifics, Russell said in February he was accountable for his past actions and apologized for "the hurt and the pain" he caused.
Reidy has said she supports the Cubs' decision to give Russell another opportunity rather than cut him loose. Coffee also believes in the concept of a second chance, calling domestic violence a learned behavior that can be unlearned as well.
"It requires some hard work on the part of abusers who have crossed over that line and have now engaged in those behaviors, but abusers do make changes," Coffee said. "It depends upon what's important to them. If they want to sustain significant relationships, if they want to and in the case of athletes playing with the various sports and the various clubs, if they want to maintain the contracts that they have with their employers, they cannot be engaging in these kinds of behaviors with impunity."
The Cubs reached out to Coffee and Family Rescue in November when they were deciding what to do with Russell, and the conversations rekindled a decades-old connection between the organizations that had faded over time.
Coffee said part of the discussions focused on what exactly the Cubs wanted.
"There's a domestic violence protocol that all the clubs have to follow, but does the Cubs organization want to go above and beyond or do they just want to do the minimum of what's required of them?" she said. "And they were at that point of wanting to be more proactive and go above and beyond."
Coffee said Russell expressed interest in making a donation or volunteering with Family Rescue, but the organization felt it wasn't the right time.
Family Rescue staffers also met with some of the players' wives and significant others during spring training, but they did not speak to the players themselves. Major League Baseball and the players' union have their own joint domestic violence program through a partnership with Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit working to end violence against women and children.
The Cubs have said all along that Russell's return is a day-by-day proposition. But he has met each of their requirements so far.
When it comes to Russell's future, Coffee thinks only time will tell.
"The question that was asked is, 'Well, how do you know when an athlete says that, whether or not their statements are authentic?'" Coffee said. "We don't know. The Cubs don't know. The various clubs, they don't know at that point whether or not it's authentic. What they do know is what happens afterwards."