Apparently, it doesn’t take much to impress Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey.
At least that’s the conclusion I came to after reading his comments about signing free-agent defensive end Ray McDonald.
When new general manager Ryan Pace first brought the idea of bringing in McDonald, McCaskey’s first instinct was to steer clear of him because of his recent history. McDonald was cut by the San Francisco 49ers in December after a second incidence of suspected domestic violence in a span of five months.
But the unemployed McDonald was persistent. He wanted a job with his ex-coordinator, Vic Fangio, who is now with the Bears, so he asked for a meeting and even paid his own way to Chicago.
Next thing you know, he’s a Chicago Bear on a one-year contract.
“So the fact that he proposed that idea, I gave him a lot of credit for,” McCaskey told a few Chicago reporters on Tuesday, according to an online transcript. “And he was very candid, very forthright. It was a difficult conversation. It was long. It took a lot out of me. And I think it took a lot out of him. And after that conversation, I told Ryan that he had our permission [to sign him].”
To refresh, McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence on Aug. 31, 2014, and was investigated for sexual assault on Dec. 17, 2014, not long after which he was cut by the Niners. He wasn’t charged in either case, though the latter one remains open. He recently sued the woman who accused him in the December assault case.
I’m not sure what McCaskey was expecting from McDonald in a man-to-man conversation and what qualifies him to be a judge of character, other than his title and birthright of being related to George Halas.
While McCaskey stressed to reporters that he’s trusting Pace’s decision-making on a very thorny issue, he has the final say.
McCaskey, who had no player personnel experience before taking over as chairman, said he also talked to McDonald’s parents. While qualifying he didn’t expect anything critical to come from them, he told reporters he was impressed by McDonald’s “support system.”
The Bears also believe McDonald seems like a good teammate. Fangio backed him, as did coach John Fox based on Fangio's recommendation and after the team’s extensive evaluation process. McCaskey came away “very impressed” with what Fangio had to say about him.
McCaskey, who said it was not his place to dig into the specific allegations against McDonald, was pleased to hear the player has a “strong work ethic” and is “motivated to make this work.”
But McDonald’s on-field or locker room demeanor isn’t the issue and his work attitude shouldn’t be conflated with his off-field problems.
Color me unconvinced that McCaskey is some kind of character judge. Not that I expect much sensitivity from an NFL owner, even an anodyne sort like McCaskey.
It shouldn’t take a wave of domestic violence cases to make us care about this issue, but that’s what happened in the past year or so.
The Bears, like every other NFL team, are empathetic to social ills, but this is a bottom-line business, one that employs men who practice violence for a living. Some are excellent citizens, valiant poet-warriors. Others are bad guys.
But given that the NFL pays players as fungible assets, why take a chance on this guy? Well, the Bears think McDonald can help them win football games. And perversely, because of his troubles, he comes at a good price, allowing the Bears to improve their team in other areas as well.
It’s a gamble they’re willing to take, even as it offends a portion of their paying audience. But then again, we all know the outrage will die down. It always does.
I don’t blame McCaskey or Pace for taking this chance. We all use justifications to shape our daily lives. I also don't blame Bears fans for being turned off by this addition.
The Dallas Cowboys offered much of the same sentiments as the Bears did when they recently signed defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted last summer of assaulting and threatening his then-girlfriend. Hardy is appealing the conviction and still could be suspended by the league.
Dallas has been lambasted for the move. Jerry Jones' daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, serves as the team's chief brand officer, and she defended the signing as a teaching moment and an "opportunity."
“I think you will look back and you will say this is the right move for the Cowboys," she told the Dallas Morning News.
It doesn't have to be said that people can learn from their mistakes and can change for the better.
Brandon Marshall has a new lease on life after a past of alleged violence against women. The Bears took a chance on him and it mostly turned out OK.
The Bears hope McDonald, who could still get punished under the league's ever-changing behavior policy, doesn’t get in trouble under their watch, and that his one-year contract is motivation for a new life of clean living.
We should all hope that is the case, more for any potential victims than the state of the Bears’ “brand.”