Four years ago, Bears chairman George McCaskey decided to give a player with a history of domestic violence another chance. He sat down with former 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald in his Halas Hall office and called the player’s parents before agreeing to sign him.
Sixty-two days after the Bears signed him in March 2015, McDonald was arrested again. The Bears cut him.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Sun-Times on Thursday, McCaskey was asked how that experience affects his input about another player with a public domestic-violence incident: former running back Kareem Hunt, whom the Chiefs released Nov. 30 after a TMZ video showed him pushing and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel last year.
McCaskey said his McDonald decision came against his better judgment.
“We said then, and we’re saying now — every situation is evaluated on its own merits,” he said. “I said then that I made a mistake, because I didn’t follow my gut.”
Still, McCaskey wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of the Bears signing Hunt, though he said the team was nowhere near making any such decision. He said coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace haven’t discussed the running back with him, though both publicly declined to rule out signing Hunt earlier this month. Nagy said he called Hunt to check in on the player he coached with the Chiefs last year, which McCaskey said was proof that Nagy cared about players beyond the field.
Four years after McDonald, McCaskey said he would weigh in on Hunt if it were warranted.
“If we got to that point, I would see what information is given to me, and review that, and make whatever inquiries I thought were appropriate,” he said. “It wouldn’t necessarily be talking to the individual, or his parents. That’s just the way I approached that situation.”
Any decision, McCaskey said, seems far in the future.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “The player’s not even eligible. The important thing is that he address issues in his personal life at this point.”
McCaskey addressed other topics — about the Bears’ past and future:
The playoff loss
When Cody Parkey lined up for his 43-yard field-goal attempt in the final seconds of the wild-card playoff game, McCaskey had two thoughts.
“I was thinking, ‘If we make it, the family’s going to go crazy,’ ” he said. “If we don’t make it, I need to go down to the locker room and thank our players.”
He had to do the latter.
“For me, and I’m sure for other Bears fans, every other field-goal attempt appears to go in slow motion,” McCaskey said. “That one appeared to be in surreal, slow motion.
“The upright and then the crossbar. It was almost like one of those cartoons where the ball is wobbling on the crossbar, deciding which way it’s going to go over.”
Asked whether he was stunned, he nodded.
“That’s probably the best word,” he said. “Stunned.”
The same could be said for his mom, Virginia, the Bears’ 96-year-old matriarch.
“She, like everyone else in our family, was, and is, disappointed,” he said. “I think in time, we’ll look back on 2018 as a great season. And hopefully the success we had and the way it ended, will serve as a catalyst for success in 2019 and beyond.”
Asked about Parkey’s appearance on the “Today” show, he demurred. Nagy said last week that it wasn’t a team-first move.
“I was impressed, even in the postgame interviews — he’s a standup guy,” McCaskey said. “I don’t know what went into how it was that he came to be on the ‘Today’ show.”
Halas Hall expansion
The Bears expect their Halas Hall renovation, which will double their facility’s size, to more than 300,000 square feet, to be completed in April.
McCaskey said the construction is not the first step toward moving training camp to Lake Forest. The Bears, he said, plan to keep their training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.
“They’ve provided outstanding facilities,” he said. “The staff’s been terrific. [We have] a good, long-standing relationship. It’s a great touch point for our fans.”
Expansion of the buildings and fields will give the Bears plenty of room for training camp. Parking would prove difficult, though.
“We also want to be good neighbors to our friends in the [Lake Forest] business park,” McCaskey said. “We also want to do right by ONU.”
Days after the Rams got away with pass interference in the NFC Championship Game, McCaskey said he didn’t believe such plays should be subject to replay review in the future.
“They didn’t call pass interference,” he said. “Is the non-call going to be reviewable? And if it is, where is it going to end? If you’re going to review the non-call, what non-call are you going to review? Is it defensive pass interference? How about offensive holding? How about hands to the face?”
Any replay change would need support from 24 of 32 owners. McCaskey was asked if he’d be in favor of a more limited rule change — say, to challenge a pass-interference flag.
“We’ll see if the competition committee addresses it, and if so, what they come up with,” he said. “They’ve addressed this issue before and have decided that the solutions that were suggested were not workable.”
The Bears are excited to play in London this year for two reasons, he said: it won’t cost them a home game and it gives them certainty about where they’ll play the Raiders, who don’t currently have a home stadium for 2019.
“We want our fans to have eight regular-season games in Chicago,” he said.
‘The buzz is back’
McCaskey was thrilled by the returns from the team’s two biggest acquisitions, saying outside linebacker Khalil Mack “transformed the team, not just the defense” and that Nagy is “comfortable in his own skin.”
Still, he said the Bears’ “work isn’t finished” this offseason.
“The challenge for Ryan and his staff is, how do we improve the team in 2019 without a first-round draft pick or a second-round draft pick?” he said.
The four seasons before the Bears’ 12-4 year were a “challenge for our fans,” he said. He’s eager for the Bears to build on their success.
“My overriding impression was how grateful we are to the fans and how their Bears gave them something to cheer about,” he said. “One of the things I’m most excited about is, the buzz is back. People are excited about the Bears.”
Even with the early playoff exit.
“It was a fun ride,” he said. “It ended far too soon.”