Ray McDonald was arrested August 31st on charges stemming from a domestic disturbance at his house after, of all things, a party for his 30th birthday. Since his arrest he has proclaimed his innocence, posted bail and is now awaiting his initial hearing. He has not been charged in the case. In the meantime, the 49ers have taken no actions against their defensive tackle, allowing him to play in both of the 49ers games this season. The decision to let McDonald play has caused the organization and coaches to receive a lot of criticism with everyone from former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (of all people), showing their disapproval in one way or another. However, all of those on the side of Newsom who think that McDonald should not be allowed to play are dead wrong, and attacking the issue from the wrong side.
The biggest reason that so many people are calling for the 49ers to “do the right thing,” is due to the recent onslaught of bad press that has flooded the news waves surrounding the NFL in recent weeks. The center of this storm, is of course Ray Rice, who has casted such a bright light on not only the issue of domestic violence, but how the NFL handles it, that now it has become a nationwide issue. While there is no denying that the NFL dropped the ball in the Rice situation, the reality is that the league has never gotten involved in these matters in the past, unless there is a conviction, or some damning evidence. To bring it up now only points to a lack of recognition in the past, that falls on the shoulders of society and not the 49ers.
For years the NFL and its teams have left domestic issues out of sight and out of mind. The only thing that changed is there is a video showing everyone how ugly domestic violence can be. While it’s a valid question as to how the NFL could ignore such a serious issue, the better question is why it took a video for people to grasp the vulgarity of domestic violence?
So now that members of the press and some in society finally have opened their eyes it’s on the 49ers to lead society in a new direction? It’s unfair to point to the Ravens parting ways with Rice or even the situation in Carolina and Greg Hardy to draw an accurate or fair parallel to Ray McDonald. To say that if those teams can go above the norm to send a message, why can’t the 49ers is a stretch. McDonald’s actions and the proof against him, unlike Rice and to an extent Hardy, do not warrant any suspension or firing, at least not yet.
What’s the difference between Ray Rice and Ray McDonald? The former Ravens running back admitted to both Roger Goodell and the Baltimore organization that he punched his then fiancée, and now wife, in the face. Keep in mind that at this time everyone had seen the video of Rice pulling her unconscious body out of the elevator. That alone puts him in his own category as there is no question as to if he punched a woman. To make matters worse there is the release of the second video that shows Rice starting and finishing the altercation.
The Panthers and Greg Hardy are in a slightly different position, but they too would actually have a leg to stand on if they left their defensive star on the field. Unlike McDonald, Hardy has already been found guilty for domestic violence, and there is a mountain of evidence stacked against him, but despite all of this, isn’t he entitled to an appeal? For the Panthers to supersede the law and sit their star linebacker in an attempt to show the world that they will not tolerate domestic violence is walking a thin line for two reasons. Isn’t Hardy entitled to an appeal, and while a new verdict does not seem likely, what if Hardy is found not guilty?
So this brings us to Ray McDonald, his employer the San Francisco 49ers and his supervisor Jim Harbaugh. Since the news broke of McDonald, both the 49ers and Harbaugh have remained steadfast in their position. They went to McDonald, got his side of the story and believe that he did nothing wrong. Some speculate that the 49ers have heard or seen something that leads them to believe that McDonald will be cleared of the charges, but this is not supported, and isn’t really needed. There is nothing in front of the 49ers to prove McDonald wrong, so the decision to support him is an easy one. He is a member of this team, and has been given what anyone in his position is entitled to, at least from those close to him, and that’s the benefit of the doubt.
San Francisco plans to let due process play out and once they have all the facts in front of them they will make a rather easy decision. If cleared he keeps playing like nothing happened. If found guilty he has not only been convicted of domestic violence, but it will prove that he lied to the team, so to fire him would be easy. While those on their moral high horse find fault in this approach, they fail to see the larger picture, and the message sent if McDonald is not guilty of domestic violence.
Sitting McDonald to send a message is just wrong. The only acceptable move is what the Ravens did and part ways. But you can’t do that at this stage with McDonald because there is nothing that indicates he will be convicted. If San Francisco did decide to sit him they are doing so in hoping he gets cleared right? So the best scenario is he is cleared, you sat him for no reason and now you have a player who has a right to question the organization that failed to take him for his word. The only thing the 49ers can do is wait to see what the courts decide. What’s funny is that people are quick to criticize athletes who feel that they are above the law. So why in this case do we not allow the law do its job as it would with a normal member of society?
Those with an issue with the 49ers are misdirecting their criticism. Don’t ask an organization that is in the business of winning football games to crumble under the pressure of society and do what others feel is right. The NFL should take its cues from society and the law, not the other way around.
While the NFL has a domestic violence issue, so does society. 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence, yet it’s the NFL that needs to examine itself? Perhaps Gavin Newsom and those in his corner can look to the proper people, and not ask the 49ers to do a politician’s job. Why has this only become an issue because famous football players are involved? Did we not care when it was the mothers, wives and sisters of our own? The 49ers could suspend or cut Ray McDonald and a message will be sent to NFL players, but what about the rest of society. Why don’t we start with society and just include the NFL in it?
The only problem anyone should have with the 49ers is if at the end of this, IF McDonald is found guilty; San Francisco does not cut him. The team has said they have a zero tolerance for it and while they have not come out and said it, have indicated that McDonald is gone if guilty. If they stray from their position to protect their winning ways than yes the argument has become valid that they have put winning a football game over domestic violence. Until that day comes though allow them to be what they are, a football team. Any person who understands the concept of a business knows that the only way to deal with any type of accusation is to get all the facts before moving forward. Some may call the 49ers immoral, others would call them smart.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.