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Self-awareness at a premium for George McCaskey and the Bears

The Bears chairman and family mean well, but can’t look in the mirror.

Bears chairman George McCaskey
Chicago Tribune

Meaningful self-evaluation is a gift many don’t possess. Noting what you’re doing wrong as opposed to denial, can be a lost cause for people - especially in the NFL world. Failure or success in this league time and time again is defined by how you process either result. Some respond well to criticism. These are the franchises that understand the crux of their problems and overcome them. On the other side, some look straight into the light - defiantly at that - and preach to the masses, even though no one may be listening.

Bears chairman George McCaskey projects as an idealist, even in the wake of chaos. A former television reporter and then director of ticket sales for the Bears, he’s seen it all - at least in his eyes. There’s a wealth of knowledge of some kind here, you can’t deny that. He’s seemingly more relentlessly optimistic about his Bears than ever, while no doubt growing increasingly restless day-by-day.

McCaskey hasn’t spoken publicly often since he took over from his brother Michael in 2011. On the rare opportunities he does speak, such as at Chicago’s season-ending press conference in early January - boy does he offer a harrowing look into those who control Bears-world.

Everyone carries the same message at Halas Hall. It doesn’t matter if it’s after a winning season, or one of the worst records in franchise history in 2016 at 3-13. “Patience” is the new ideal to wax about in the public forum per WGN.

“Like I said, I’m not a patient person. But I promised Ryan (Pace) that I would be patient.” McCaskey said back in that presser.

If you asked him directly to respond with complete honesty, McCaskey would likely paint the elaborate picture of how to become a winner, even if he’s never been at the helm of such a successful voyage. All mapped out and detailed. It’s easier said than done, obviously.

There’s no doubt that McCaskey knows how to get the Bears there. He just doesn’t understand how to implement said plan.

When you’ve won 14 games in three seasons and sit on your third head coach since you’ve taken charge, no one reasonable could actually discern McCaskey wholeheartedly believes what he preaches. Or maybe he does, to a fault.

He knows he likes Ryan Pace and his head coach, John Fox, for the time being and the potential direction they’re heading in, but for how long?

How long until they’re simply resting on their laurels of their large football market? Wait, that’s already happening.

* * *

Yet, McCaskey knows the theoretical problem of absentee-ism in January. Shooting for the mountaintop isn’t lost on him.

“It can’t be the norm. The goal everywhere every year is to win the Super Bowl,” said McCaskey of his organization’s proposed mindset.

It’s about engaging people. It’s about building a quality product to sell (because that’s what this is, a business), and following through on promises. But at some point, well-meaning intentions mean nothing without result. Delivering on these sentiments is oh so different from stepping on a soapbox to discuss them.

Recent events the Bears have put on display while they try to return to contention illustrate undeserved arrogance though. Or show a lack of demonstrated focus on what the consumers of their product care about. Potentially factor in their own players, or laborers in legal terms there, too.

The Bears raised ticket prices by 2.6 percent Wednesday afternoon, after keeping rates flat for the past two seasons. A bold move considering the lack of success to this point in the current regime.

Sure, ownership and McCaskey are entitled to profit off of their primary business asset - an NFL team. It’s about the bottom line. That doesn’t change from bottom feeders such as the Bears, to Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl champion, New England Patriots.

But it’s about principle. Even if the ticket prices are now rising by the most minute of differences, it’s about committing to actually improving and winning before mandating attendance of games to be more expensive.

McCaskey’s most frequented mouthpiece, Bears president Ted Phillips, echoed a crazy strategy in explaining this price hike.

“Acquiring ascending players who can contribute to championships.”

That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it works out for them.

If the Bears justification for raising ticket prices is to do the minimum of what’s expected of a team, meaning to be selectively active in free agency - something they’ve normally done anyway - as well as draft well, then they’re sending mixed signals on prioritization here.

* * *

Furthermore, when McCaskey and company - as well as the other four major Chicago sports teams, to be fair - want to push through an Illinois worker’s comp. bill that would eliminate benefits for professional athletes after they turn 35, the message they send on price inflation rings hollow.

NFL Player’s Association president DeMaurice Smith could initially threaten to steer free agents from signing with the Bears, whether he’s successful or not in doing so (he’s since backed off of this stance) over this precedent, and they’ll still defend it.

The very first part of this official statement from the Bears in response to Smith says all you need to know.

“We join the four other major Chicago professional teams in monitoring and supporting changes to the system while acknowledging athletes are not competing professional until the age of 67.”

“We care about our players, but only to the most extreme extent.”

Considering that they supposedly consider free agency an upcoming main avenue of success, that McCaskey would risk being hamstrung in his “patience” over not paying his players worker’s comp., speaks volumes.

Where’s the common sense?

Not to mention taking away benefits from guys in an inherently incredibly dangerous sport where many former players face a rash of health problems in middle age. It speaks of carefully crafted and intended delusion.

* * *

Truth be told, McCaskey is no different from any sports owner. Running a business into tip-top shape is the mission. There’s nothing malicious about someone in charge of their asset, managing it how they see fit. It’s about perception. Perception from those on the outside looking in i.e. fans and media, to the viewpoint of the eagle eye in the owner’s box each Sunday at Soldier Field.

In the case of the Bears versus winning teams though, their mistakes are magnified when they aren’t doing anything to justify their changes in ticket prices or not taking care of their players. It isn’t enough to simply say fortune in the win and loss column will quickly change.

And the disconnect couldn’t be more vast between what the Bears believe and what others see. A necessary fight against apathy by devout followers of this franchise that hasn’t won a championship in 31 years is lost in the shuffle when those in power refuse to maintain perspective.

The classic fan response to mediocrity is blaming ownership.

When a team is stuck in a perpetual championship drought that for the time being doesn’t look like it’s ending any time soon, fans use this excuse that would be drastic in most cases.

However, if you’ve been as bad as the Bears have been for decades, is it difficult to see the truth now?

Whatever McCaskey’s priorities are, he’s completely muddled them. Until evidence points to the contrary, “patience” will be lost on those who support the Bears, even from the select fans in a stadium parking lot telling him that they like the team’s direction, that “it’s going to get better”. Essentially, giving justification and telling him what he wants to hear.

“They deserve more wins and we’re going to do everything we can to get them.”

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.