Ray McDonald

Determining the “right way” to handle Ray McDonald

Ray McDonald SF 49ers

I’ve stayed mostly silent on the Ray McDonald case, save for one snarky comment and a paragraph or three where I lamented the 49ers’ increasingly obscene arrest statistics. That’s because, unlike so many sports topics where the so-called “right answer” pops into my head pretty quickly, I’m at a bit of a loss here. I don’t know what the 49ers should do, which puts me in the minority.

Jim Harbaugh said five times yesterday that the 49ers’ decision-making process regarding McDonald’s playing status will be based on “information and fact.” The Sacramento Bee helped out with that process here.

Police arrived at 2:48 a.m. at McDonald’s home, where a birthday party was being held. He turns 30 Tuesday.

McDonald apparently was involved in an altercation with his fiancee, who a police source said is 10 weeks pregnant. When she showed police minor bruises on her neck and arms, McDonald was arrested without incident.

McDonald was booked at 5:30 a.m. in Santa Clara County jail for “inflicting injury on a spouse or cohabitant,” according to the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections. Bail was set at $25,000, and McDonald was released at 11:30 a.m.

And the Bay Area News Group chipped in here.

According to police-dispatch audio, obtained by ABC7 News, McDonald’s fiancée claimed he was “hitting her” and “was trying to pull her out of the house. She’s 10 weeks pregnant and refusing medical.”

McDonald’s court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 15, a day after the 49ers’ regular-season home opener against the Chicago Bears at Levi’s Stadium.

That doesn’t tell us exactly what went on that night. McDonald said “the truth would come out” and that he’s “a good-hearted person.” In my limited dealings with McDonald, he’s seemed like an even-tempered, affable guy. But no one thought Ray Rice (a player who’d performed a considerable amount of charity work and flashed an easy smile) was capable of doing the things he did on that surveillance video, either. We simply don’t know what happened that night at McDonald’s home, and no police report has been furnished yet.

We also don’t know what the 49ers will do. I didn’t think there was any chance they’d play Aldon Smith against the Colts last year, and we saw how that turned out. Because of that decision, many assume McDonald will play against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Many people — and not just those in the media — have called for the 49ers to deactivate McDonald on Sunday. He’d get paid, but he wouldn’t represent the 49ers on the field. But this begs the question …

Then what?

The NFL has made it clear that penalties (and after the Rice disaster, it’s now a six-game suspension for first-time domestic abusers) won’t be levied until a case has gone through the legal system. McDonald’s case could drag on for quite some time. If Santa Clara County goes forward with these felony charges, I’d imagine McDonald will plead “not guilty” on Sept. 15.

Then what?

Are those calling for McDonald to sit on Sunday looking for the 49ers to display strong character, integrity and human decency for just one day? Or is the hope that the 49ers suspend McDonald (with pay) until the case is cleared?

Timing

Given that an absolutely hammered Aldon Smith ran into a tree a few days before the Colts game, the going wisdom was that he shouldn’t have played because it was such a bad look for the team (and they indeed looked terrible that afternoon, in every way). But what about Chris Culliver? He allegedly struck a bicyclist, fled the scene, then threatened a witness. His case doesn’t seem close to being sorted out, but he’ll start at cornerback and play every snap in Arlington. Perhaps this teaches players that the best time to act violently is several months before a season starts.

Michael Crabtree was accused of sexual assault after the 49ers beat the Packers in the playoffs, and he played in the NFC Championship less than a week later against the Falcons, as expected. There wasn’t the same hue and cry for Crabtree to sit — perhaps because it was the playoffs and the 49ers’ team-wide rap sheet wasn’t quite so long back then. No charges were filed against Crabtree.

Crime vs. Crime

Is domestic assault worse than sexual assault? I’m not sure if there’s any difference as far as the severity of either crime, at least in a vacuum, but there are some differences between what happened to McDonald and Crabtree’s situation in January of 2013. Crabtree was investigated, not charged. He didn’t spend a night in jail, and there were no reports of physical evidence (like bruising). But we don’t know how those bruises came about and whether they were caused by McDonald — there’s no video from this incident, and the 911 call has not been released.

Is domestic assault worse than hitting someone with your car and driving away in hopes of avoiding punishment? I don’t know, but it sure seems that the public is leaning that way in light of what Rice did to his fiancee. The public is fed up with NFL players hitting women; they aren’t at their wit’s end with NFL players injuring cyclists with their automobiles. Obviously, the former crime occurs much more frequently than the latter.

Those who believe the right answer is for the 49ers to send a message by suspending McDonald until this is sorted out are also sending a message: Domestic assault arrests paired with reports of bruising carry more weight than most transgressions, and McDonald should be punished for the collective errors of his teammates (and himself, as he was arrested for DUI in 2010).

I don’t know the right answer for Sunday or beyond, which doesn’t mesh with our current hot take landscape. If the 49ers keep him sidelined in Dallas, I can’t imagine I’d feel badly for McDonald. Then I might look at Culliver guarding either Dez Bryant or Terrance Mitchell and wonder “What scale are 49ers working with, exactly?” Punishment without rhyme or reason, other than trying to determine which way the wind is blowing, is how Goodell earned so much public scorn.

Does the organization’s choice on Sunday (which they may have already made, since McDonald is practicing this week) tell the world they believe McDonald is innocent, or are they simply going to get as much as they can out of McDonald, while they can? Is there an inherent benefit in Jed York, Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh taking a stand NOW and saying they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore?

Maybe. I don’t know.

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