Aldon Smith

OTL report shows how Goodell plays favorites – did Rice and Smith punishments affect how 49ers dealt with McDonald?

Ray McDonald 49ers

Just after Roger Goodell’s disastrously vague and pompous press conference, ESPN’s Outside the Lines released a damning report describing how the Ravens attempted to get Ray Rice off lightly, both with the Atlantic County (NJ) authorities and the NFL. Ravens owner Steve Biscioti, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome come off extremely poorly. It shows how the team went to great lengths to cover up what happened between Rice and Janay Palmer in that elevator, and it’s a must-read.

OTL does a fantastic job burying the Ravens. This site focuses heavily on the San Francisco 49ers, and certain revelations in the report caught my attention from their standpoint in regards to the Ray McDonald situation. Before I explain what I mean, here are some passages from the report.

For its part, the NFL — which in other player discipline cases has been able to obtain information that’s been sealed by court order — took an uncharacteristically passive approach when it came to gathering evidence, opening itself up to widespread criticism, allegations of inconsistent approaches to player discipline and questions about whether Goodell gave Rice — the corporate face of the Baltimore franchise — a light punishment as a favor to his good friend Bisciotti. Four sources said Ravens executives, including Bisciotti, Cass and Newsome, urged Goodell and other league executives to give Rice no more than a two-game suspension, and that’s what Goodell did on July 24.


The first was the so-called Spygate investigation in 2007 after New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his assistants were caught using a secret videotaping system of opponents’ coaches over the course of multiple seasons. Within five days, Goodell decided on the punishment, fining Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 and stripping New England of a first-round draft choice. But Goodell also ordered all the spying videotapes destroyed, leaving it a mystery how much the spying had helped the Patriots win games, including Super Bowls in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons. Goodell is extremely close to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and some owners and other executives felt their relationship had played a role in the punishment, which they felt could have been harsher.


Such is the assumption by some front offices that Goodell plays favorites among the owners that Woody Johnson, the Jets owner, was enraged after Goodell conducted a closed-door coin-flip to determine whether the Jets or Giants would host the first home game at the new Met Life Stadium in September 2010. The Giants won, Goodell announced, but no team representatives witnessed Goodell’s coin flip. Johnson accused Goodell of rigging the coin toss for Giants owner John Mara, who Goodell counts as one of his closest confidants.

In 2010, Goodell suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for six games under the league’s personal conduct policy after he was accused — though not arrested or charged — with sexually assaulting a college student after a night of drinking in a bar in Milledgeville, Ga. Goodell, however, reduced Roethlisberger’s suspension to four games, writing in a letter to the Super Bowl-winning quarterback he could see Roethlisberger was “committed to making better decisions.” Steelers co-owner Art Rooney II accompanied Roethlisberger to his meeting with Goodell, and told ESPN he had been in contact with Goodell throughout the four-month process.

In light of Rice’s extremely lenient initial penalty (a two-game suspension), and the nine-game suspension Goodell leveled on Aldon Smith, my first thought after reading the report — other than “Bisciotti is scum” — was that the 49ers might feel as if the Ravens received preferential treatment. The 49ers were “bracing for” a Smith suspension of six to eight games, and many thought Smith’s penalty might be reduced a bit, due to the five games he spent away from the team while undergoing treatment at a substance abuse rehabilitation facility.

Whether or not Smith’s rehab should’ve counted as time served is irrelevant — I’ve seen both sides argued ad nauseam, and I don’t necessarily believe Smith or the 49ers should’ve benefitted just because he spent time at a facility during the regular season. The point here is that with the NFL cracking down on Smith after (and possibly in part because of) the laughable two-game suspension Rice received, the 49ers may not be in a mood to help the NFL clean up its public image by holding Ray McDonald out of action before they’re forced to do so — not by the NFL, but by the legal system.

If this is the case, it could be described as a “well, if they’re going to screw us anyway, we’ll get as much as we can from this player before the hammer drops” mindset.

The 49ers made a mistake in playing Smith just a few days after his DUI accident, but they probably figured they were “getting it right” (to use the NFL’s favorite phrase) by convincing Smith to take some time away from the team to work on his problems. And what did it get them? Neither the 49ers nor Smith deserve any awards for how they handled that situation, but it’s possible the organization sees things differently.

Granted, it’s not like the NFL has kept the 49ers down in recent years. Getting Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium was a big feather in Jed York’s fedora. But if they were ready for a maximum eight-game suspension for Smith, and got nine, just after Rice got two, and several owners think Goodell plays favorites with his golfing buddies (like Bisciotti), maybe the 49ers decided they were done doing what’s “right” for everyone else.

Or, it could be that McDonald is a valuable player who doesn’t have a problem with addiction, and the 49ers think he’s 100% innocent of any wrongdoing in his domestic violence case (or there isn’t enough evidence against him). But with the NFL levying all sorts of penalties seemingly at random, and teams penalizing players, then reinstating them, only to penalize them again (hello, Vikings), it seems like anything is possible in this sport. There have been several domestic violence incidents involving NFL players in 2014, but the way these cases have been so poorly handled reveals a leadership crisis that starts at Goodell and branches out to all 32 owners in some way, shape or form.

One last thing: with OTL reporting that the Ravens pushed hard for Rice to land in a diversionary program (PTI), something that rarely happens to those charged with felony domestic violence, one has to wonder what the 49ers are doing behind the scenes with law enforcement. The release of details from a May 24 incident at McDonald’s house yesterday was certainly curious.

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