By Henry Erlandson
Time and time again, violence rears its ugly head during the football season, and I’m not talking about the brutal hits that you’ve grown accustomed to seeing every weekend on television. No, this violence takes the form of domestic abuse, assault, and various other forms of violent behavior that surface just about every year in the nation’s most popular sport.
Last week, the former star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, Kareem Hunt, fell under this category after TMZ released a video of him pushing and then kicking a woman outside of his Cleveland apartment in February. Just a week prior, the San Francisco 49ers cut linebacker Reuben Foster after he was arrested for domestic violence last month. The accusations levied against Foster, which includes slapping a cell phone from a woman’s hand, pushing her and hitting her across the face, leaving her with a one-inch cut near her collarbone, didn’t stop the Washington Redskins from signing the troubled Foster just days later.
With a player like Hunt’s caliber, who led the NFL in rushing as a rookie and is currently 8th in rushing yards this year, now an unrestricted free agent, it’s only a matter of time before he is signed by a team willing to weather the public outrage and impending suspension.
In light of all this, it’s clear that the NFL has used its extensive resources to control the narrative regarding domestic violence cases with its players. The NFL epitomizes ‘Ignorantia juris non excusat’, or ignorance of the law excuses not, if only a law was being broken by the league’s utter ineptitude to conduct thorough investigations.
The NFL has claimed to have grown since its debacle with Ray Rice, which resulted with an initial two-game suspension for the former NFL running back and eventual indefinite suspension after video evidence revealed that Rice knocked his then-fiancée unconscious and dragged her body from an elevator.
“We found no evidence that anyone at the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video before it was publicly shown,” said Robert Mueller in 2015. Yes, the same Robert Mueller who led the FBI for 12 years and was appointed as a special counsel to investigate potential Russian meddling in the 2016 election and ties between the Kremlin and President Trump’s campaign.
That same Robert Mueller also conducted an investigation into the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice incident. “We concluded there was substantial information about the incident — even without the in-elevator video — indicating the need for a more thorough investigation. The NFL should have done more with the information it had, and should have taken additional steps to obtain all available information about the February 15 incident,” he reported.
“Should have done more” is the key phrase there. This report was published three years ago. Let that sink in. In this most recent case involving Kareem Hunt, the league claimed to have begun an investigation immediately after being notified of the incident in February, but was never allowed access to TMZ’s video for legal reasons and never reached out to Hunt about the allegations.
Here’s the catch: The NFL knows about these horrible and violent cases because it hears from the players directly involved, yet it sits on the information for months while preaching intolerance for such inappropriate, often illegal, behavior. In 2014, the NFL overhauled its investigation unit and claimed it would not rely solely on police reports when it weighed what actions would be taken for violating league rules.
Yet, the actions of the league contradict its mission to mitigate the detrimental effects of domestic violence on its players and the victims. Kareem Hunt admitted that he lied to his team about the February incident, which may have limited the possible disciplinary moves that the NFL could have made, but if the NFL’s claim of not relying solely on police reports is to be taken seriously, then Hunt should have been punished before TMZ’s video became public.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the league also has been investigating an incident involving Hunt allegedly punching a man in the face at an Ohio resort in June. The NFL is believed to have found enough from that incident to add to Hunt’s discussed discipline of a 6-game suspension, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
It’s almost beginning to feel like Groundhog Day when these reports of domestic violence surface for the public to dissect. A player commits a violent act, the league fails to follow up on key details and witnesses, and then a video surfaces for all to see, leaving everyone to question why the NFL didn’t act sooner.
It’s quite jarring to watch the mixed reactions from the public and the teams around the league compared to just 3 years ago. Foster was signed to the Washington Redskins shortly after his departure from the 49ers. The current Redskins executive, Doug Williams, described Foster’s arrest as “small potatoes” in an interview, comments for which he later apologized for. Yet, Williams’ remarks are emblematic of a larger sentiment across the NFL that has infected its coaches and executives. They run a business, so they see these player transactions as business decisions. “Basically what you’re doing here is you’re taking a high-risk chance,” Williams said. “The high risk was the beat-up that we’re going to take from the PR. We understood that from a PR standpoint, and we’re taking it.”
Teams took calculated risks drafting or signing a litany of players over these past few years with questionable or criminal pasts, including Greg Hardy, Frank Clark, Adrian Peterson, Tyreek Hill and Joe Mixon, among others. Some, in the case of Greg Hardy, for example, did not pan out. But others rewarded their teams with excellent careers and performances.
The NFL is a massive global organization that takes in over $13 billion in annual revenue. The league’s plate is full with issues like concussions and dropping television ratings, which is why it could use its enormous resources and influence to work with professionals in the domestic violence arena and create programs that address the issue.
Many of these players should absolutely be given a second chance. After all, they are human beings underneath the shoulder pads and helmets who will inevitably make mistakes during the course of their careers. Besides, the vast majority of players in professional football don’t hit women and pursue other criminal activities off the field. However, the league will tragically allow the public to paint its players with a broad brush if it doesn’t clean up its act and prove willing to take a firm stand on violent criminal behavior.