I don’t know Ray McDonald.
I know a bit about him. I know he is an eight-year NFL veteran.1 I know he was drafted from the University of Florida by the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. I know he is a pretty talented football player; you’d have to be to make an All-Pro team (McDonald did so in 2011). Some of that production can likely be attributed to the defensive scheme under which McDonald was playing and to the other players on San Francisco’s defense, including Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith, just to name a few. But, even with all that extra talent, McDonald deserves credit for his performance on the field.
I also know that Ray McDonald has a history of being involved in domestic violence disputes. I know that in August 2014 he was arrested on felony domestic violence charges regarding “alleged injuries” to a victim, later believed to be his fiancee. I know that in December 2014 he was accused of sexual assault by a different woman. I know that he was never officially charged in court in either incident and that he has since filed a defamation suit against the woman who made the second set of allegations. I know that nothing has been proven in court and that, in America, people are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
I know that the Chicago Bears – my Chicago Bears – signed McDonald to a one-year contract in March. I know that absolutely none of the money on the contract was guaranteed, which means that if McDonald were to get cut from the team, the Bears would not owe him anything more than the salary he had earned up until the date of his release. I know that, because of the way the contract was structured, signing McDonald was effectively a low-risk, high reward financial move: if McDonald plays up to his potential, the team gets quality defensive play for relatively little money, while cutting him for any reason costs nothing extra.
I know that I hated the signing the moment I read about it.
I know that I’m a big believer in second chances. I know that people make mistakes and I believe that they deserve the opportunity to make things right with the people they’ve hurt. I know that McDonald met personally with Bears chairman George McCaskey prior to signing so that they could discuss McDonald’s history of “off-the-field issues.”2 I know that McDonald supposedly made such a good impression that McCaskey thought it was worth giving McDonald a chance to prove that his “off-the-field issues” were behind him and that he was fully committed to football. I know that the idea of a low-risk, high reward gamble makes good financial sense, especially regarding sports contracts.
I know that I don’t know Ray McDonald. I know that he could be getting misrepresented in the media. I know that people try to take advantage of celebrities and that there is always more than one side to any story. But I also know that there are plenty of celebrities – athletes, in particular – who are getting paid boatloads of money despite the way that they treat the people close to them. I know that Greg Hardy was signed this offseason by the Dallas Cowboys despite his history of domestic violence allegations. I know that Adrian Peterson is still employed by the Minnesota Vikings despite agreeing to a plea bargain regarding his felony child abuse charges. I know that Floyd Mayweather is the highest paid athlete in the world and that he is adored by fans all over the globe, even though he has a longer history of assault and other domestic violence allegations than any football player I’ve heard of.3 I know that where there is smoke, there is usually fire.
That connection is why I knew two months ago that I didn’t want Ray McDonald on my team. I knew I didn’t want to be happy for my team’s success but then second-guess that happiness because of the rumors and allegations against one of the players. I knew that I didn’t want to have to explain to someone else – my friends, my coworkers, my son – that I could somehow differentiate between the player and the domestic violence perpetrator. Because I knew that I couldn’t then and I know that I can’t now.
Regardless of my personal feelings about McDonald, I now know that Ray McDonald was arrested over Memorial Day Weekend, again on charges of domestic violence. I know that this new report alleged that McDonald assaulted a woman holding a young child in her arms. I know that hours after the report came out, the Bears announced that they had released McDonald. The low-risk, high-reward gamble, it appeared, had not worked out in the Bears’ favor. I know that hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy for me to say that I saw this coming two months ago when the Bears signed McDonald in the first place. But I also know that this is even more smoke to add to the thickening haze that has been gathering around McDonald for almost a full calendar year. I know that I was disappointed when the Bears signed McDonald and I know that I am glad that they released him. I know that at least one of the Bears players feels the same way.
I know that I don’t know Ray McDonald; but I feel like I know enough.
1. NFL information obtained from ProFootballReference.com.↩
2. I’m not even going to get into the problems I have with that phrase right now. Let’s just say it’s absurdly broad and gets used too often to white-wash some really terrible things and leave it at that.↩
3. Mayweather deserves his own footnote. This article by Louisa Thomas is a fantastic account of the different faces Mayweather presents and the extensive history of domestic violence incidents in which he has been involved.↩