No, the 49ers won’t tolerate domestic violence. As long, apparently, as a jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that domestic violence happened.
A day after G.M. Trent Baalke suggested that the team would defer to “due process” arising from its own investigation and not from the legal system, coach Jim Harbaugh created the impression during a Wednesday press conference that McDonald will continue to play until he’s found by the court system to have committed violence against a female.
On multiple occasions, Harbaugh said that any decisions regarding McDonald will be based on “information and fact” (and “fact and information”), but he didn’t specify who would collect and decide those facts and information. He implied more than once that the team will allow the legal process to play itself out.
“[T]his is America, you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know what more I can say about that and I have great respect for that principle.”
In other words, the 49ers will believe that McDonald didn’t do anything until the legal system concludes that he did. Which means that he’ll potentially be able to play until his court case ends.
Asked to define what Harbaugh means by “due process,” Harbaugh again painted the picture that he’ll rely on the principles that find a person responsible only when a court of law has decided that criminal laws were broken.
“It’s in the Constitution,” Harbaugh said. “It’s in the Constitution. It’s well defined. The Fifth Amendment.”
Reference to the Fifth Amendment, which insulates criminal defendants against self-incrimination, means that Harbaugh will accept a refusal from McDonald to explain himself. That’s a precedent Harbaugh needs to be ready to apply if/when a guy at the bottom of the roster is accused of doing something that he refuses to address whether he did.
Here’s the reality. If the 49ers wanted to gather “facts and information,” Harbaugh could call McDonald into the office, close the door, and demand to know the truth. Harbaugh surely knows people well enough to know whether McDonald is being honest.
The broader truth is that the 49ers need McDonald. So they’ll tap the brakes, hopeful that the criminal case won’t be resolved until after the season, when they’d have a much better chance to search for a competent replacement.