The immediate focus of the past day has been Ray McDonald and the veteran defensive tackle’s third arrest in the past nine months. But the bigger spotlight has been squarely on Bears Chairman George McCaskey, and what that light has revealed is more than a little bit interesting.
McCaskey, who insiders say has something of a temper when he feels wronged, was exactly that by McDonald, and not just by McDonald.
For the second time in barely five months, the Bears chairman has paid much more than cursory lip service to the notion of “accountability.” In the process McCaskey exhibited the fortitude to acknowledge his own major mistake and to place his own ego a decided second to both doing the right thing and also doing the right thing for the Bears. This is no small matter.
In January it was McCaskey admitting a franchise-grade mistake when he fired Phil Emery after just two years as general manager. This was McCaskey’s first big hire, he got it wrong and did not compound the mistake by staying with the error.
The Bears made a mistake on McDonald. To their credit, they did not compound the mistake by hiding behind “waiting for matter to make its way through the courts.” The absence of a criminal conviction does not mean that the criminal act never happened. Far worse than a mistake is not fixing it. McCaskey did that.
McCaskey initially opposed the signing of McDonald, understandably not keen on the risk inherent with someone with a dubious past. He had that “no” vote irrespective of what McDonald represented, a quality football player intimately familiar with the coach (Vic Fangio) and the defense he would be working with.
McCaskey did some personal vetting of McDonald, meeting one-on-one with him, and changed the no to an “OK,” but a conditional one. McDonald signed for one year and was on hand for the veteran minicamp. He projected to be a linchpin at one end of the forming 3-4 Bears defense.
But with the latest action, McDonald made saps out of McCaskey, Fangio, GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, all of whom were called on for and gave public endorsements. And they cut their losses.
“We believe in second chances, but when we signed Ray we were very clear what our expectations were if he was to remain a Bear,” Pace said in a statement issued Monday. “He was not able to meet the standard and the decision was made to release him.”
A point here is that McDonald has never been convicted of anything in the recent spate of incidents. And he was not some inconsequential down-the-depth-chart player. This was a starting defensive lineman.
The fault here lies with Ray McDonald, not the people who gave him one more chance.
And some credit goes to a chief executive who twice in six months has sent significant accountability messages from the highest reaches of the organization. McCaskey addressed his own mistakes promptly and decisively. That is a message that resonates beyond just Ray McDonald.