Grant Cohn: 49ers and their flexible code of conduct and punishment

Whatever they need, however they can justify it.

On Aug. 31, 2014, 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. He was throwing a birthday party at his house and allegedly got in a fight with his pregnant fiancé. Police arrived at 2:48 a.m., found bruises on the woman’s arms and neck and arrested McDonald.

He was never charged for the incident.

At the time, the Niners were under tremendous pressure from media and fans either to release McDonald immediately or put him on paid leave. But the Niners kept him. They needed him. He was one of their best players, integral to their defensive front seven, which was the core of the team.

“Right now it’s a legal matter,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said when asked why the Niners were allowing McDonald to play last season. “There is such a thing called due process and we intend on letting that play out.”

Whatever they need, however they can justify it.

On Dec. 17, 2014, news broke that McDonald was under investigation for sexual assault. He allegedly had sex with an unconscious woman at his house.

Hours after the report came out, the 49ers released McDonald even though he hadn’t been arrested or charged. A few days before, on December 14, the Niners had been eliminated from playoff contention after losing to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Niners didn’t need McDonald anymore. What they needed was an image boost.

“This is about a pattern of poor behavior,” Baalke said they day he cut McDonald. “We expect a lot from our players, hold them accountable for their actions.”

Whatever they need, however they can justify it.

On Aug. 26, 2015, Ahmad Brooks was charged with sexual battery. The Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office accused Brooks of groping the same unconscious woman McDonald allegedly raped. Brooks could face six months in jail if convicted.

Have the 49ers released Brooks? No, they need him. They recently released outside linebacker Aldon Smith after he was arrested for hit and run, DUI and vandalism - misdemeanors. The Niners could afford to cut Smith because they had Brooks, a Pro Bowler, a proven player who plays the same position. The Niners have no other Pro Bowl replacements at outside linebacker. Brooks is essential to the defense.

“The organization is aware that a misdemeanor charge has been filed against Ahmad Brooks stemming from a December 2014 matter,” Baalke said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon. “We take any charge against a member of this organization seriously and are in communication with the NFL. Ahmad is returning home to California and will not participate in Saturday’s game.”

So Brooks will miss a preseason game, but he may play during the regular season - the Niners seem to be deferring to the NFL’s judgement. The Niners are in wait-and-see mode.

Whatever they need, however they can justify it.

Let’s recap: The Niners keep Brooks and remind us he was charged ONLY with a misdemeanor. But they cut Aldon Smith after a he was charged with a misdemeanor, and they cut McDonald before he was charged with anything.

What do the 49ers stand for?

Maybe they stand for second chances. Remember, the official reason for cutting McDonald was his “pattern poor behavior.” In 2014 he was investigated twice in five months, and in 2012 he was arrested for DUI.

Aldon Smith certainly had a pattern of poor behavior before the Niners cut him. He got arrested five times in four years.

But Brooks has a pattern of poor behavior, too. He got arrested for allegedly hitting former teammate Lamar Divens in the head with a bottle three times and then punching him in the face in 2013, although Brooks never was charged. In 2008 he accepted mediation on charges of punching a woman in the face. In 2005 he got kicked off the University of Virginia football team for unspecified off-field issues. And in 2013 he got arrested for possession of marijuana.

Those are five examples of poor behavior by Brooks.

What do the 49ers stand for? Whatever they need, however they can justify it.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette