Remember when 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested for suspicion of felony domestic violence at the end of August? I’m sure you do, because it was a news item that inflated like a zeppelin and hovered over Niners headquarters in Santa Clara for weeks, throwing its shadow on many of the team’s frontmen. It was the McDonald case that launched the catchphrase “due process,” which would torment and embarrass the 49ers for most of the 2014 season.
Do you think we will all remember fullback Bruce Miller’s arrest for suspicion of spousal battery so vividly six or seven months from now? Doesn’t seem that way, does it, since the incident has barely caused a ripple in the pages and air waves of Bay Area media since breaking Monday.
And I’m wondering, sincerely wondering: Why the huge disparity in how these two events have been treated?
Certainly, the timing of the arrests has something to do with it. Miller had the good fortune of getting booked – or at least having the news get out, several days after his arrest – while a flurry of headlines, most of them negative, was burying the 49ers. Patrick Willis retiring… Justin Smith, too… Frank Gore ready to sign with the Eagles, then the Colts… and all of it with the wounds of the Jim Harbaugh split still relatively fresh.
The Bay Area’s sports opinion-makers were too busy covering these other dramas to take notice of Miller’s arrest. Or at least that’s the common perception. But let’s get real. The McDonald news broke on Aug. 31, pretty much the apex of annual NFL hype. The defender’s arrest had to compete with roster cuts, injury news, starting-lineup debates, preseason-game dissections and early rumors of Harbaugh unhappiness.
In other words, Miller-in-March should have been in line for at least as much attention as McDonald-in-August.
If timing worked against McDonald, it had more to do with Ray Rice. The full, and fully horrifying, Rice video would be released a week after McDonald was apprehended at his home, but the arrest came 2½ months after the Ravens running back met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, a little more than a month after the league’s initial two-game suspension and just three days after the NFL announced its new domestic violence policy.
Clearly, it was not a good time for Ray McDonald to be accused of knocking around a woman.
The discrepancy in the coverage does not speak well of our media machine. Sure, issues rise and fall on the waves of Twitter and Deadspin. We don’t have unlimited attention for any one cause. Still, it’s sad that an NFL player being accused of hitting his partner in the wake of other domestic-violence cases would somehow be deemed more heinous, or more important, than an NFL player being accused of hitting his partner when things had quieted down.
Anyway, Ray Rice can’t solve this entire equation. There seems to be more at work here.
The easiest explanation, and the darkest, is that Bruce Miller is white and Ray McDonald is black. I guarantee the distinction is not lost on a lot of African-Americans who feel they have been singled out for their skin tone, or fear that their children will be.
I don’t think that is why McDonald’s arrest was treated more harshly than Miller’s, though. Maybe I simply don’t want to make such an admission, because it would be too damning, too complicated. Honestly, it just doesn’t ring true, not here in the Bay Area, not among the people I know who cover sports news here.
But here’s something that could be a factor: Bruce Miller is one of the most popular 49ers players among reporters. He’s accessible. He’s friendly. He’s patient. After a tough loss, he’s the guy you can depend on to be in front of his locker, ready to take whatever you throw at him. And a few days later he’ll do the same thing on local radio.
Here’s a little story about Bruce Miller. The 49ers had just wrapped up the 2012 regular season with a victory over Arizona at Candlestick Park. When reporters entered the home locker room, TV monitors were ablaze with the waning minutes of the Packers-Vikings game. If Minnesota could pull off the upset, San Francisco would get a first-round playoff bye; if Green Bay won, the Niners would have to play a first-round game the following weekend.
It was great theater. Players, writers, coaches and cameramen all gathered around the monitors. I did, too. And as I watched, I felt a gentle shove to my left shoulder. It was Bruce Miller, the ginger fullback. “Isn’t this great?” he said quietly, shaking his head and grinning.
That’s Miller – open, down-to-earth, charming. The guy is a mensch, as my colleague Lowell Cohn might say. But is that any reason to ignore his recent arrest? It shouldn’t be.