The Bears on Tuesday signed Ray McDonald.
When I heard that, when I heard the team I spend so much time thinking about and cheering for signed this man with a checkered past, my initial reaction was a simple, “Ugh”.Ugh as in how could the Bears overlook a track record of violence towards women in the name of good defensive line play. Ugh as in how could this new Bears leadership be so eager to ship Brandon “Tartikoff” Marshall to New Jersey for less than a Rutt’s Hut ripper in the name of personality problems while bringing in McDonald on the recommendation of their new defensive coordinator alone. Ugh as in how, after the NFL’s dark troubles of 2014, could the Bears so willingly enter that conversation in 2015?
(The Tribune provides a legal timeline for McDonald HERE.)
But there was an even worse Ugh. Ugh as in the realization that the first time McDonald buries Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford or Teddy Bridgewater I will be the first one to applaud and forget all his transgressions.
On Twitter I asked for fan responses to the McDonald signing. Here is a sampling:
@mrgb9he was never charged for anything lack of evidence therefore is a great sign we are adding a 3-4 end and someone fangio knowsC Rathunde @thundrspirit I’ve got 3 stepdaughters & my favorite team just signed a serial domestic abuser. I’m not thrilled, that’s for sure.BigHurtNYC No player is gonna be a saint; however if he committed another crime under Bears watch I’d be pretty disgusted with allMissy @missykaybm I’m genuinely pissed about it. I don’t care how good he is on the field. If our leadership is unable to sign players w/o violent histories it’s failing.
Does being a sports fan come with a social responsibility? Do we as ticket buyers, jersey owners, bloggers, commenters bear some of the responsibility for the actions of the team we support? Should the 65,000 in Soldier Field on Sunday use their expensive pulpit to influence ownership along moral lines? Somewhere in Chicagoland there is a woman like Missy who will not watch the Chicago Bears this season because of their employing McDonald. And she is right to do so. But on that same block, on a dark tavern barstool is a man who could care less what the players do off the field. The Bears are his escape. He roots for what Jerry Seinfeld referred to as “clothes”. You know what? He is right too.
The world is gray. Too often the First Take culture surrounding sports forgets that. One does not need to be sympathetically for or vehemently against the signing of Ray McDonald. Allowing for the conversation can be enough. Asking the questions of yourself and those around you can be cathartic. “I’m not sure” can be just as profound a response to the McDonald question as “I have daughters and this makes me sick” or “he’s never been charged so I’m fine with it”.
Does being a sports fan come with a social responsibility? Of course it does. Sports are part of life and life comes with a social responsibility. The Bears went out of their way Tuesday to explain the process by which McDonald was hired, even insinuating Virginia McCaskey had signed off on the decision herself. They understood how this acquisition would be viewed by a portion of the fan base and felt they needed to explain themselves. Would they have done the same for a special teamer or backup quarterback? Of course not. McDonald is a terrific football player. He may also be a bad guy. That is a fence straddled by front offices across the NFL every single day.
And not just the front offices. Kyle Long, the new leader of the Bears locker room, Tweeted: “If yall don’t like second chances I can go back to folding t shirts and sticking the shoe room at the surf shop lol.” Four years ago the notion of Long being one of the most beloved members of an NFL franchise was a pipe dream. Hell, five years ago the notion of Long being a professional football player AT ALL was unlikely. He was “a bad guy”. Is he a good guy now? Was Olin Kreutz a good guy? Steve McMichael? Walter Payton? Mike Ditka? Gray. A whole lot of gray.
This column can’t have a clean conclusion, despite what the structure snob within me desires. But let me end it by saying this. The Chicago Bears – Long, Ryan Pace, coaches, McCaskeys – are now responsible for the behavior of Ray McDonald. If he is arrested for pissing on Rush Street after a night on the town, credibility is lost. If he is accused of another domestic incident, questions will arise as to whether the Bears have competent leadership at any level of the organization. The Bears have taken a risk far greater than the football field in 2015 by acquiring McDonald. They have risked defacing the Chicago Bears brand. They are risking a hundred years of history.
While the Bears have not won nearly enough in my lifetime, one thing is true: I’ve never had to apologize for them. Maybe I won’t now either. But is the possibility worth the production?