English journalist Evan Davis once said, “Nice guys finish last. But we get to sleep in.” You’d like to think that this was true of Bears chairman George McCaskey on the Memorial Day holiday yesterday. But given that now former Bears defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested at 7 AM, I kind of doubt it.
I wasn’t too thrilled with the signing of McDonald from the beginning and wasn’t too surprised that he ended up on the police blotter again. What I was surprised by was the wide range of reactions in the press this morning, especially when it comes to McCaskey’s culpability in the matter.
I rather objected to the implication made by David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune that McCaskey should take all of the responsibility for the misstep:
“The Bears signed the troubled defensive end in March anyway, ignoring the pattern [of run-ins with the law] and taking an unnecessary risk because their gullible chairman, McCaskey, met with McDonald and talked to his parents. They still thought Ray was a swell guy, which was good enough for McCaskey.”
Haugh makes it sound like McCaskey actually pushed for the signing when he, in fact, rather hesitantly agreed to it.
On the other side of the coin I found the attempt of Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com to excuse the Bears organization over this to be both amusing and insulting to my intelligence:
“But before you rush to judgment of George McCaskey, Ryan Pace and the Bears organization, do yourself a favor and Google the story of Brian Banks.
“He’s the young man from Long Beach who lost his scholarship to Southern Cal to play linebacker, and instead spent five years in prison and the last 10 years as a registered sex offender after being falsely accused of rape by a woman who has since completely recanted the allegation.”
To my knowledge, Banks was accused of running afoul of the law only once. Not three times in seven months. That’s more than an isolated incident where a guy was wronged. That’s a pattern.
Arkush’s defense is more understandable when you remember that he came out strongly in favor of the McDonald signing in March. So he’s not really excusing the Bears for their misjudgment. He’s excusing himself.
Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times probably had the most balanced view point when addressing the situation. He quotes McCaskey from last March after he was asked if he had talked to the alleged victim in McDonald’s December sexual assault arrest:
“‘An alleged victim, I think — much like anybody else who has a bias in this situation — there’s a certain amount of discounting in what they have to say,’’ he said. ‘But our personnel department had done its work looking into the background and the incidents. And we had the benefit of two coaches who had been with him with the 49ers.’’
“One of those coaches was new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. What do you expect from a football coach? The chairman of a billion-dollar business should know better.”
The chairman certainly should have. Actually both of them should have. The question is, “Why didn’t they?”
Mike Imrem at the Daily Herald may have the answer as he tries to put together what was running, first through the head of McDonald, then McCaskey’s response:
“Think about it: Being caught in a lie isn’t a big deal after being caught in more serious transgressions.
“You might as well keep saying you didn’t do it until some sucker believes you.
“McDonald found a true believer in George McCaskey.”
“George McCaskey believed what Ray McDonald was babbling, and others in the organization believed what they wanted to believe.”
And therein lies the problem. Everyone from McCaskey through Pace and head coach John Fox to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wanted to believe. Athletes everywhere know that’s true of most people by the time they become professionals. People want them to be winners. They want to believe them. So it makes it easy for them to look you in the eye and tell you what you want to hear. They’re generally good at it.
I’m convinced that George McCaskey is genuinely nice guy. I think he’s a nice guy from a nice family that grew up in a nice environment. And like most nice guys, McCaskey probably believes that most other people are nice guys like him. That becomes a problem when it buts up against a crappy world with con men like Ray McDonald in it.
There are a lot of people this morning that are pointing out that the Bears damaged themselves with this. That Fangio’s relationship with the Bears (and the rest of the league) is damaged. That Pace’s relationship with McCaskey is damaged. That the Bears reputation and that of its chairman is damaged. But there’s one good thing that will come out of it. The next time an athlete waltzes into McCaskey’s office, looks him in the eye and “impresses him with his sincerity”, he’ll be a little more cynical when the facts don’t jibe with the words.
The next time no one, from McCaskey through Pace down to the coaches, will be quite so willing to believe. That will make them tougher to fool. And that can only benefit the Bears.