Citing the constitutional right to due process, San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh started defensive tackle Ray McDonald in Sunday’s season opener at Dallas, even though the 49ers currently leads the NFL in player arrests since 2010, with McDonald accounting for three of them. McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence on Sep. 7, just three days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced more stringent punishment for players arrested for domestic violence.
Goodell publicly stated that the league office is waiting for the results of the legal process before taking any punitive measures against McDonald. If convicted, McDonald would receive the minimum of a six game suspension, with additional consideration due to the fact that McDonald’s fiancée is pregnant. McDonald was hosting a party for his 30th birthday at his San Jose home when the police arrived early Sunday morning. McDonald’s fiancée told police that McDonald had tried to pull her out of his house and he was hitting her.
The policy change occurred due to the backlash surrounding Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. He was charged with third-degree assault after security cameras taped him taking his unconscious fiancee out of an Atlantic City elevator. Rice received a suspension of two games after he avoided being found guilty of a crime by entering an intervention program. The suspension’s heavy criticism for Commissioner Goodell, who promptly revamped the league’s domestic violence policy. Players now face a six-game suspension for the initial offense; the second offense draws an indefinite suspension of no less than a year.
McDonald had previously been arrested in June of 2010, on suspicion of DUI in San Mateo, where he allegedly was driving 94 mph in a 65-mph zone. Subsequently, McDonald was arrested on an outstanding warrant in Feb. of 2012 after being stopped by police for a traffic violation; the warrant was from the 2010 DUI charge.
Ray McDonald and linebacker Aldon Smith account for seven of the 49ers’ league-leading 10 arrests since 2010. Smith, who has been arrested four times since 2010, is in the middle of a nine-game suspension for violation of the league’s personal conduct policy and for violation of the substance abuse policy. In April of 2014, Smith allegedly became belligerent during a security screening at Los Angeles International Airport and claimed that he had a bomb. Smith was also arrested for DUI in Jan. of 2012 and in Sep. of 2013; he was charged with three counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon in Oct. of 2013, stemming from a party at his home.
49ers offensive lineman Al Netter and tight end Demarcus Dobbs were both arrested for suspicion of DUI. Offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore was charged with public intoxication in his hometown in Tennessee. Cornerback Chris Culliver was arrested for felony possession of brass knuckles and for misdemeanor hit-and-run. Culliver allegedly hit a bicyclist with his vehicle, then rammed an eyewitness’ vehicle, who was preventing him from fleeing the scene before police officers arrived. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and wide receiver Quinton Patton are currently the subjects of an investigation surrounding an incident at a Miami hotel, though no charges have been filed as of yet.
Critics have argued that Harbaugh has not done enough in his three-year tenure to prevent future incidents. Since he became the 49ers’ head coach in 2011, there have been ten instances of players being arrested for criminal behavior. In the three years prior to his hiring, there were four. With Commissioner Goodell under heavy scrutiny for perceived inconsistencies in the NFL’s code of conduct policies, having already handed out 20 suspensions for violations in 2014, Ray McDonald’s start on Sunday seemed to fly in the face of everything the NFL is trying to change.
Commentary by Matthew Gurrola