George McCaskey was the man who interviewed Ray McDonald, called his parents and granted the Bears permission to give him a free-agent contract.
So Wednesday, two days after the defensive end’s arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangerment — and subsequent release by the team — the Bears chairman was the one to take the blame for signing him.
“We had safeguards in place,” he said after the first day of Organized Team Activities at Halas Hall. “(General manager) Ryan (Pace) came to me for permission. So we have the reinforcement of that process.
“I just need to make a better decision.”
The decision looked even worse, if possible, late Wednesday, when McDonald was arrested for violating a restraining order given after Monday’s arrest. He visited a residence in Santa Clara, Calif., and was later arrested at a Togo’s sandwich shop, according to Santa Clara police.
McCaskey has second-guessed how the Bears came upon the decision to sign McDonald to a non-guaranteed, one-year, $1.05 million deal in March.
After initially rebuffing the notion of signing the player — for whom Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio lobbied and loudly vouched — McCaskey was swayed when McDonald flew himself to Halas Hall for an interview. The chairman even infamously called the defensive end’s parents in an attempt to evaluate his character.
“I’ve asked myself that question a lot: ‘What more could I have done? Is there somebody else we could have consulted with? Should I have taken more time to make a decision?’” McCaskey said. “I don’t know. We thought we had a good structure, a good support system.”
He said that the “overriding emotion for me was sadness” when he heard that McDonald was accused of assaulting a woman holding a baby. In audio from a 911 call released Tuesday, the accuser’s mother — who was not at the scene — told a dispatcher her daughter said McDonald was drunk at his Santa Clara, Calif., apartment and claimed he tried to take her child.
“Sadness for the child, for the child’s mother and for the entire situation,” McCaskey said. “Domestic violence is a vexing social problem. The NFL has had some high-profile cases including this one. And the NFL — because it’s a leader in society — is called upon to take action, which we are doing.”
Still, the Bears did not consult with the alleged victims of McDonald’s two most recent legal incidences before Monday — an August domestic violence arrest and a December sexual assault allegation.
“One of my concerns was the bias anybody has in that situation,” McCaskey said. “An alleged victim wants to make sure that charges are filed. An alleged perpetrator is doing everything he can to make sure that charges aren’t filed. So that was part of it.
“But a larger concern to me was that I didn’t want to interfere with any criminal investigation or with any league investigation by talking to the child’s mother.”
The team didn’t speak with domestic violence experts specifically about signing McDonald, either.
“But I told representatives of those agencies that I didn’t want to put them in the position of it being suggested that they signed off on our decision,” McCaskey said.
“It was our decision — my decision, ultimately, alone.”
A member of the league’s Conduct Committee, McCaskey said he had not heard any discussion about whether teams should be punished for player misdeeds but that it “might be something that would be worth a discussion.” He acknowledged, though, that the franchise’s reputation had taken a hit.
Claiming responsibility, McCaskey said his confidence in his first-year GM hasn’t changed.
“We have complete confidence in Ryan,” he said.
It was Pace who made the decision to cut McDonald on Monday. Because the team had warned him about any further transgressions, the move was academic — and did not include the chairman.
“I wasn’t involved because I didn’t need to be,” McCaskey said. “They knew what needed to be done, and did it.”