Ray McDonald's release shines light on owners' responsibilities


Maybe, in the wake of Ray McDonald's arrest and subsequent release by the Chicago Bears on Monday, it's time for NFL decision makers to grapple with a bigger question: When do the second chances run out?

Not the second chances for players who, say, fail drug tests, but second chances for franchises. Aren't there some behaviors that are so beyond the pale that football decision makers have to swallow their measurements and metrics and decide that a player's football skills simply don't outweigh the risks he presents -- and the stain he could bring -- to a franchise? And if the football people can't come to that conclusion, can't the team owners, who, after all, aren't going to lose their jobs if there aren't enough sacks in a season?

McDonald was arrested early Monday morning on misdemeanor charges of domestic violence and child endangerment. Police said he physically assaulted a woman who was holding a baby. The Bears, who signed McDonald in March -- he had been released by the San Francisco 49ers following a December accusation of sexual assault -- cut him about as quickly as they could get from their Memorial Day barbecues to a telephone.

That, of course, was the right thing to do. But the question was why Bears coach John Fox, general manager Ryan Pace and, ultimately, team chairman George McCaskey decided it was right to sign McDonald in the first place, especially with the sexual assault allegation still unresolved. McDonald was also accused of domestic violence last August, and he was briefly swept up in the outer layers of the Ray Rice/Adrian Peterson/Greg Hardy crisis that engulfed the NFL. McDonald was never charged for that August incident; even the NFL, after looking at that allegation itself, declined to discipline McDonald under its new domestic violence policy. The 49ers never removed him from the field -- until the December incident, when they decided McDonald's "pattern of behavior," in the words of GM Trent Baalke, was enough to release him.

It apparently wasn't enough of a problem for Fox, Pace or, most alarmingly, McCaskey, the scion of one of the league's standard-bearer ownership families. McCaskey said in March that, despite initially hesitating about signing McDonald, he was swayed after he met with McDonald personally and spoke to his parents. McCaskey said he did not speak to McDonald's alleged victim in the December sexual assault case, before making a reference to the potential bias an alleged victim might have.

It would be laughable if it didn't sound like McCaskey was insulting everyone's intelligence. If McCaskey simply didn't want to talk to someone whose version of events might not square with the version he and his football people wanted to believe in, then at least he should have been honest enough to admit it. Say that you knew you were taking a big risk with the reputation of your franchise and your family. Say what we already know: The depressing reality of professional sports -- no one should kid themselves into thinking this issue is exclusive to the NFL -- is that talent trumps almost everything else. This is why Hardy is set to wear a Dallas Cowboys jersey in 2015 and why the Minnesota Vikings will patiently wait for Peterson to return to the team. But McCaskey should at least take some ownership for a situation that owners are now complicit in. It's hard to solely blame coaches and general managers for this state of affairs. The win-now mandate of the NFL pushes all but the most secure executives to step nervously over the line and sign a risky player.

But the Bears' situation does not even fall under that heading. In an ideal world, of course, a player's talent level would not factor into how he's treated after being involved in a domestic-violence incident, but the truth is, McDonald is not a player of the same caliber as Hardy or Peterson. So a good portion of the conversation at Halas Hall should be about why a first-year GM and his new head coach would stick their necks so far out for a player who is not transformative. The Bears are not good enough right now to think that they are one player -- or any player -- away from winning the Super Bowl. Moreover, owners have none of the pressures to win right now -- nobody is taking away McCaskey's or Jerry Jones' teams if they don't make the playoffs this year -- freeing them, you'd hope, to make reasoned decisions in which principles could at least be theoretically applied.

So much for that. With patience running out for miscreants -- Bears guard Kyle Long's "Good riddance" tweet, posted in the wake of McDonald's release, probably sums up the thoughts of plenty of other players around the league -- maybe braintrusts could use some free guidance. Here it is:

There are thousands of men who play in the NFL who manage to go their entire careers -- their entire lives -- without words like "assault" or "rape" being attached to them. Go sign them.

If teams simply can't limit themselves to that group, then they should be held accountable for their mistakes, too. The league office took the brunt of the fallout from Rice, et al., because of its clumsy handling of discipline for the players involved. That allowed the owners who mishandled their messes to escape much blame, and that is the way owners in general surely prefer these things to play out -- they pay Commissioner Roger Goodell plenty to take heat so they don't have to face it."

But the Bears' signing of McDonald should bring that to an end. The NFL already has "club accountability" provisions in place holding franchises responsible, via fines, if players repeatedly break personal-conduct and on-field safety rules. Given the intense focus the NFL was forced to place on domestic violence as a result of its own serious missteps with Rice last year, perhaps an addendum is necessary to specifically address teams that sign those involved in domestic-violence infractions if the players get in trouble again.

Hardy's appeal of his 10-game suspension is to be heard Thursday, another reminder that the NFL is not going to escape this issue anytime soon. Ideally, players would take responsibility for their own actions -- maybe the one thing Rice got right -- or, in McDonald's case, for repeatedly putting himself into some very questionable situations. But there is plenty of blame to go around when the second chance/need for good players equation doesn't add up. It didn't in Chicago this weekend, and part of the bill should be handed to the people signing those very risky checks.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.



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