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Are The Bears Not Holding Themselves To A Higher Standard By Signing Ray McDonald?

By Jim Bochnowski in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 6, 2015 9:45PM

Ray McDonald during a San Francisco 49ers game against the Carolina Panthers. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Late last month, the Chicago Bears signed free agent defensive lineman Ray McDonald. A key player for the San Francisco 49ers, he helped the team to three straight NFC championship games, and, for a team like the Bears that struggled mightily on defense, seems like a natural fit. That said, he is also currently under investigation for sexual assault in California. Which leads this writer to wonder: Why do I cheer for the Bears?

A bit of background: I was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, within shouting distance of Chicago. While my parents were football agnostics, I quickly chose to follow the Chicago Bears in order to fit in with kids at school. To be clear, this has not been an easy choice. I was born in March of 1986, two months after the Bears won their only Super Bowl championship. Throughout my adult life, despite one magical run to the Super Bowl (which of course ended in heartbreak), the Bears have been marked by surly superstars, boring offenses and above average play. However, the one thing that I always held onto was that the I felt the Bears held themselves to a higher standard.

In defending the move, Chicago Bears owner George McCaskey stated that "We have a 96-year tradition of doing things a certain way, of bringing a certain type of player into our team.” And he’s right— the Bears have a rich tradition of players with high character. Every year, the Bears hand out the “Brian Piccolo Award” to a member of the team who exemplifies the qualities of Piccolo, a former Chicago Bear who tragically died of embryonic cell carcinoma in 1970. The NFL annually awards the “Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award," which honors the player who best embodies Payton’s spirit of giving. Granted, I’m not naive enough to believe that the Chicago Bears are above reproach or that they have not protected bad characters in the past. But when a team's owner brings up this history, it’s worth putting in context.

It’s also worth talking about what exactly McDonald brings to the table. According to the Bears' General Manager Ryan Pace, McDonald is "a physically tough player, a high motor player." However, in addition to a litany of DUI charges, in August 2014 McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence. Police reported seeing visible injuries on McDonald’s wife’s face, but charges could not be filed due to insufficient evidence. In December 2014, San Jose police started to investigate McDonald regarding a possible sexual assault. While the police have not yet formally filed charges, the 49ers released McDonald due to a “pattern of poor decision making.”

But maybe I'm just overreacting. After all, this is the same team that employed Tank Johnson (he had a small arsenal in his home), Sam Hurd (a drug kingpin), Cedric Benson (a history of multiple DUIs) and Brandon Marshall (who has struggled with his own issues with domestic abuse).

The Bears have undoubtedly done their due diligence in investigating Ray McDonald’s case. And of course, this is the NFL, where guys with checkered pasts can be become Super Bowl MVPs or millionaires. But for whatever reason, I thought my team was different. And if they're not that different, why should I care to keep cheering for them?