Here is my Tuesday column.
SANTA CLARA — Give the 49ers credit for handling Ray McDonald correctly for the most part.
McDonald spent the night in jail after he allegedly hit his pregnant fiancé around 2 a.m. Sunday morning. On Tuesday, the San Jose Police Chief released a statement saying McDonald’s pregnant fiancé “had visible injuries.” This is all we know so far.
The 49ers could have canned McDonald as soon as the police arrested him.
The 49ers did not can him. Canning him would have been wrong. I’ll explain why, but let’s give the 49ers the first word.
“We’re still in the fact-finding mode, trying to get as much information as we can,” Trent Baalke explained to reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll have more knowledge later today and certainly more knowledge the next day and moving forward. Nothing has been determined at this point.”
A few hours before Baalke spoke, Jim Harbaugh said on The Murph and Mac Show that the 49ers are “firm believers in due process.”
A perfectly fair position.
McDonald may deserve a heavy punishment, but first he deserves an investigation. The 49ers should not cut him merely because he is accused of something, no matter how serious the accusation. Everyone deserves an investigation after being accused of a crime. Good for the 49ers, good for due process and good for America.
Here’s the part the Niners messed up.
They should bench McDonald while they investigate. Instead, they might let him play against the Cowboys on Sunday. “That decision hasn’t been made yet,” Baalke said, “But he could potentially play. He’s going to get back to practice today. We’ll make that decision later in the week.”
It’s commendable to support due process. Can’t Baalke and Harbaugh support the victim, too? McDonald’s pregnant fiancé had visible injuries according to the San Jose Police Chief, bruises according to the Sacramento Bee. Someone gave her those bruises. The bruises didn’t magically appear. The 49ers should not allow McDonald to play unless they find evidence that suggests someone other than him caused the bruises.
What if McDonald was a suspect in a murder case? Would the 49ers play him then?
Of course not. No team would play someone who’s under investigation for murder. Playing a murder suspect would be disrespectful to the victim’s family and a potential public relations disaster if the suspect is found guilty.
So there is a line. If a player is accused of a serious crime and there is a victim, the player should not play until there’s been an investigation. The 49ers have a moral obligation to bench McDonald.
The 49ers have a pragmatic reason to bench him, too — it would be a tactical error not to. Playing McDonald would create a distraction for the 49ers.
“Any time something occurs off the field, it’s a distraction,” Baalke said on Tuesday. “Distractions are never good for a team, for an organization, for anybody.”
Distractions can cause a team to lose a game they should win, and the 49ers should win on Sunday. They don’t need McDonald to beat the Cowboys.
If the 49ers let McDonald play, the game would not be about the game. The game would be about the Niners’ decision to let McDonald play. The game would become the biggest story in the NFL. The story would transcend sports. Imagine the headlines: “49ers choose to play defensive lineman just seven days after he was incarcerated overnight for allegedly striking his pregnant fiancé,” or something close to that.
No organization wants that kind of attention. The 49ers would be foolish to bring it on themselves.
The 49ers may add all of this up and decide later this week not to play McDonald. The Niners should already have done that math and made that decision but, if they come to the right decision before Sunday, no harm done.
And if it turns out that McDonald did in fact hit his pregnant fiancé, the 49ers should cut him. No second chances.
The 49ers seem to get that. Harbaugh told Murph and Mac that the 49ers would not want a player who has committed domestic violence. “If someone physically abuses a woman and/or physically or mentally hurts a child, there is no understanding. There is no tolerance for that.”
Baalke said the same thing. “I can’t reiterate enough — domestic violence is not something we tolerate within the 49ers’ organization.”
Good to hear. We will hold you to it.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.