As the NFL takes domestic violence and sexual assault cases more seriously, law enforcement authorities necessarily will acquire far greater influence over a player’s status. With the league now willing to suspend players with pay pending the resolution of charges, a decision to aggressively pursue charges — regardless of the quality of evidence — could significantly disrupt a player’s career.
Conversely, a friendly presence in the local police force could help keep a player on the field.
The 49ers have a friendly presence in the San Jose police force. So friendly that, according to Robert Salonga of the San Jose Mercury News, Sgt. Sean Pritchard and others worked for the 49ers on the side. So friendly that, when an incident happened between 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald and his fiancée on August 31, Pritchard was on the scene when police arrived — even though Pritchard was off duty at the time.
As it turns out, nearly 20 San Jose police officers moonlight for the team, providing security at games and for individuals. Which gives rise to an obvious conflict of interest when it comes to investigations that could impact the franchise by, for example, sidelining a key player who is accused of wrongdoing.
“If we find out something during the course of the investigation, there may come a time when we don’t allow officers to work for the 49ers organization,” Assistant Police Chief Eddie Garcia told Salonga.
For now, Pritchard has been barred from working for the 49ers, while the department’s Internal Affairs division is investigating Pritchard’s connection to the 49ers and his role in the response to the McDonald incident.
“We suspended [Pritchard] working for that company because of that [public] trust,” Garcia said. “We hold all our officers to a very high standard. We’re getting all the facts as to why that individual officer was there. I certainly feel and have the utmost confidence that we would be able to investigate any situation without there being a conflict of interest.”
The best way to do that would be to tell the officers that they can’t work for the 49ers or anyone else whose employees may from time to time be scrutinized by the San Jose Police Department. At a certain level, that’s surely why the 49ers and other sports teams use off-duty cops for security; when the time comes to exercise discretion in a way that could help or hurt the team, the separate connection becomes an obvious factor.
Which could help explain why McDonald hasn’t been officially charged with assault — which in turn has allowed him to keep playing.