I Know What I Know

I don’t know Ray McDonald.

I know a bit about him. I know he is an eight-year NFL veteran.1 I know he was drafted from the University of Florida by the San Francisco 49ers in 2007. I know he is a pretty talented football player; you’d have to be to make an All-Pro team (McDonald did so in 2011). Some of that production can likely be attributed to the defensive scheme under which McDonald was playing and to the other players on San Francisco’s defense, including Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith, just to name a few. But, even with all that extra talent, McDonald deserves credit for his performance on the field.

I also know that Ray McDonald has a history of being involved in domestic violence disputes. I know that in August 2014 he was arrested on felony domestic violence charges regarding “alleged injuries” to a victim, later believed to be his fiancee. I know that in December 2014 he was accused of sexual assault by a different woman. I know that he was never officially charged in court in either incident and that he has since filed a defamation suit against the woman who made the second set of allegations. I know that nothing has been proven in court and that, in America, people are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I know that the Chicago Bears – my Chicago Bears – signed McDonald to a one-year contract in March. I know that absolutely none of the money on the contract was guaranteed, which means that if McDonald were to get cut from the team, the Bears would not owe him anything more than the salary he had earned up until the date of his release. I know that, because of the way the contract was structured, signing McDonald was effectively a low-risk, high reward financial move: if McDonald plays up to his potential, the team gets quality defensive play for relatively little money, while cutting him for any reason costs nothing extra.

I know that I hated the signing the moment I read about it.

I know that I’m a big believer in second chances. I know that people make mistakes and I believe that they deserve the opportunity to make things right with the people they’ve hurt. I know that McDonald met personally with Bears chairman George McCaskey prior to signing so that they could discuss McDonald’s history of “off-the-field issues.”2 I know that McDonald supposedly made such a good impression that McCaskey thought it was worth giving him a chance to prove that his “off-the-field issues” were behind him and that he was fully committed to football. I know that the idea of a low-risk, high reward gamble makes good financial sense, especially regarding sports contracts.

I know that I don’t know Ray McDonald. I know that he could be getting misrepresented in the media. I know that people try to take advantage of celebrities and that there is always more than one side to any story. But I also know that there are plenty of celebrities – athletes, in particular – who are getting paid boatloads of money despite the way that they treat the people close to them. I know that Greg Hardy was signed this offseason by the Dallas Cowboys despite his history of domestic violence allegations. I know that Adrian Peterson is still employed by the Minnesota Vikings despite agreeing to a plea bargain regarding his felony child abuse charges. I know that Floyd Mayweather is the highest paid athlete in the world and that he is adored by fans all over the globe, even though he has a longer history of assault and other domestic violence allegations than any football player I’ve heard of.3 I know that where there is smoke, there is usually fire.

That connection is why I knew two months ago that I didn’t want Ray McDonald on my team. I knew I didn’t want to be happy for my team’s success but then second-guess that happiness because of the rumors and allegations against one of the players. I knew that I didn’t want to have to explain to someone else – my friends, my coworkers, my son – that I could somehow differentiate between the player and the domestic violence perpetrator. Because I knew that I couldn’t then and I know that I can’t now.

Regardless of my personal feelings about McDonald, I now know that Ray McDonald was arrested over Memorial Day Weekend, again on charges of domestic violence. I know that this new report alleged that McDonald assaulted a woman holding a young child in her arms. I know that hours after the report came out, the Bears announced that they had released McDonald. The low-risk, high-reward gamble, it appeared, had not worked out in the Bears’ favor. I know that hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy for me to say that I saw this coming two months ago when the Bears signed McDonald in the first place. But I also know that this is even more smoke to add to the thickening haze that has been gathering around McDonald for almost a full calendar year. I know that I was disappointed when the Bears signed McDonald and I know that I am glad that they released him. I know that at least one of the Bears players feels the same way.

I know that I don’t know Ray McDonald; but I feel like I know enough.

1. NFL information obtained from ProFootballReference.com.
2. I’m not even going to get into the problems I have with that phrase right now. Let’s just say it’s absurdly broad and gets used too often to white-wash some really terrible things and leave it at that.
3. Mayweather deserves his own footnote. This article by Louisa Thomas is a fantastic account of the different faces Mayweather presents and the extensive history of domestic violence incidents in which he has been involved.

The Chicago Legacy

Spring is a great time of year to be a sports fan.

March gives us the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments that cripple workplace productivity as people replace spreadsheets and phone calls with box scores and online play-by-play logs. It’s the time of year when NBA and NHL teams really start to jockey for playoff position and NFL teams conduct their player evaluations in preparation for the draft in May. March also marks the start of Major League Baseball’s spring training. Spring training means warmer weather is on its way, along with the optimism that every fan feels at the start of a new season.

For the most part, April and May have been pretty kind to me, as a Chicago sports fan. The Blackhawks dispatched their first round opponents, the Nashville Predators, in six games behind the stellar play of backup goalie Scott Darling and then completed a clean sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the second round. They’re currently down 2-1 in the conference finals against Anaheim, but I’m hopeful for a comeback. Meanwhile, I’ll admit that I started feeling nervous when the Bulls, who had made it to a 3-0 lead over their first round opponents, the Milwaukee Bucks, allowed the Bucks to win back-to-back games to cut the lead to 3-2. Thankfully, the Bulls were able to find their focus again and beat the Bucks handily in game six to move to the next round. Granted, they ended up losing the next series in six games to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it was a hard-fought series and a few bounces here or there could have led to some drastically different results.1 Also, I don’t think I had any real significant hopes of a championship for the Bulls, largely because of the injuries they suffered through the regular season and during the Cleveland series, so I dealt with the disappointment fairly easily. I am a bit concerned about their coaching situation for next year, given the general consensus that their head coach, defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, and the Bulls will be parting ways during the offseason, but that’s a worry for another time.

Baseball has always been my first love, though, and this year’s Chicago Cubs are not the team of years past. This year’s team is flush with young talent, almost all of which is under contract for the next six seasons, not to mention the additional prospects still developing in the minors. Brand new third baseman, Kris Bryant, has been almost as good as advertised; he works pitch counts, gets on base and has incredible defensive talent for someone his age. His power stroke is taking a bit of time to develop, but there’s time for that; he is only 23 years old, after all.2 This year’s team almost definitely won’t make the World Series and probably won’t make the playoffs, but they’ve already shown that they are more competitive than any team since 2009. As long as they finish over .500, I’ll chalk this season up as a win.

My other favorite piece of this particular sports spring has been the way Eitan has been developing an understanding and an interest in the games. He’s hardly a full-blown fan; given the choice between watching Sportscenter highlights and watching Daniel Tiger, Daniel is going to win every time. I have noticed, though, that if Eitan comes into the room in the morning and I have ESPN on while I’m eating breakfast, he will sit and watch with me for a little while before asking to watch Daniel Tiger. Earlier this week, we happened to see the highlight of Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez hitting a home run into a boat sitting in the Allegheny River outside the stadium and, when Trudy woke up a little later, Eitan was excited to tell her, “We watched baseball and he hit the ball into the boat!” My grandparents, who happen to be Philadelphia Phillies fans, were in the car with us during a family event last weekend and my grandmother asked Eitan which team he would cheer for if the Phillies and the Cubs played against each other. Eitan smiled and said, “The Cubbies!” We all laughed, but I’ll admit that I felt a little like Mr. Burns as I pumped my fist with pride.

I’ve spent some time here and there thinking about the reasons why I want Eitan to be a fan of the Chicago teams. I think it’s pretty simple, actually; it has to do with legacies and the knowledge that I’ve passed something onto my son. The rational, higher-thinking part of me knows that there are other aspects of Eitan’s personality that he’s gotten from me and that sports are probably less important than some of those pieces. But still, there’s something about the way Eitan sings, “Root, root, root for the Cuuuuu-BEES!” that really sticks with me. It’s his enthusiasm and his smile and the pure, unadulterated joy on his face. It’s the knowledge that he got the allegiance to the Cubs from me and that he’s taking it on as his own. Honestly, I wouldn’t even mind if Eitan ends up cheering for some of the New York teams; I think I’ve already accepted that outcome as a possibility to some extent because that’s where we live and his friends will probably be New York fans too; there are worse things than being a New York fan.3 The key is that sports will be something that we can share as he gets older, no matter where we live or whatever else is going on in our lives.

Go Cubs Go.

1. Eitan gets a little confused by the team names. I can’t really blame him, since they both start with “B” and they both wear red and white. He saw me watching a hockey game and asked, “Is that the Bulls?” I answered, “No, these are the Blackhawks. The Bulls play basketball. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you everything.” Then he smiled, said, “Okay!” and climbed into my lap to watch with me.

2. Tristan Cockroft of ESPN nicknamed Bryant “Toy Store” because of his initials and the way he makes fantasy owners’ eyes light up. He caught some flak on his podcast for the idea at first, but I remain staunchly in support of the name.

3. Except the Yankees. There is nothing worse than being a Yankee fan.