I don’t really want to be writing this post, there were comebacks and playoff changing results over the week thirteen games to discuss, another coach fired, and closer to home the picks competition through thirteen weeks has me level with Dan’s dad, but there’s a bigger topic to discuss.
There are always so many things going on around the league and I didn’t quite get to the San Francisco 49ers cutting Reuben Foster after he was charged on a count of domestic violence, and the subsequent claiming of him off waivers by Washington. This wasn’t so much ducking the issue as the timing of news not quite lining up with when I was sitting down to write. However, on Friday TMZ released a video they had obtained of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in an incident that took place in in a hotel back in February. The Chiefs were aware of the incident but cut Hunt straight away as the video, which they had not been able to obtain, proved that Hunt had lied to them. I don’t know if seeing the reaction to Washington’s claiming of Foster, or the fact that there was video was the deciding factor, but no team put a claim in for Hunt so he cleared waivers and is now a free agent.
Both players are now on the commissioner’s exempt list and we are back to discussing the way the league handles discipline and in particular violence against women.
We have moved on slightly from the two game suspension that was handed to Ray Rice after his domestic violence situation, but the parallels with the Hunt situation are all too clear given that once again it was the media finding the video that triggered a response from the NFL. You can make the argument that it is harder for the NFL to approach the relevant parties and obtain the video through official channels than it is for TMZ to get hold of the video but it is hard to feel sympathy for a league that hadn’t even interviewed Hunt about the incident as part of their investigation. I’m also not sure how much credit the Chiefs should get for their quick action as this is not the only incident that is swirling around Hunt and they still have Tyreek Hill on their roster, who assaulted his pregnant partner whilst at college and was suspended but they drafted him anyway.
Even when there is video of an assault that doesn’t seem to always provoke a reaction from a team or the league. The punishment for Joe Mixon, who punched a woman in a coffee shop after an altercation that left her with multiple facial fractures having hit a table as she fell, was to not be invited to the draft combine and the Bengals saw fit to draft him in the second round…
To me eyes we have an interaction of three factors that contribute to the poor way the NFL handles these situations.
The first factor is an extension of something that permeates the league for all players, which is the greater the talent, the greater the tolerance and teams seem incapable of resisting a talent that could give them a competitive edge on the field except if it directly hurts their profitability. There are multiple players currently playing that have such incidents in the past but there is still no roster spot for Colin Kaepernick after his ghastly crime of peaceful protest. It can only be because Washington were worried about missing out that they put in a claim for Reuben Foster. They can talk all they want about having multiple players on their roster who played with him in college and who could help provide an environment for him to turnaround his life. At the end of the day they were willing to pay thousands of dollars a week to a player who cannot play, train or even attend a game at the moment, in the hope that if he can work his way back onto the field his talent will be worth the bad PR. Washington are not the only team who have run this equation and come to such a decision, although few have been quite so ham fisted in the execution or seemingly surprised by the negative reaction to their move.
The second factor is that it seems that even with a new standard released by the league (without consultation with the players I should add) after the Ray Rice incident that saw Ezekiel Elliott miss six games last season, it still feels like the process is far too arbitrary. Some combination of the teams and the league investigate situations and then something might or might not happen, unless a video appears and then something definitely will. Now carrying out your own investigation is not easy and it takes a long time for police investigations and legal proceedings to be fully resolved. Suspension and placement on something like the commission exempt list is not in of itself a bad idea, but the arbitrary way the NFL seems to handle the investigations and subsequent discipline does not inspire confidence. Nor does the lack of openness in the process, which would help people to understand how decisions have been made. Currently it feels like these decisions are currently made in reaction to media scrutiny rather than the nature of the situation themselves.
Finally, the third factor is that we don’t handle these incidents well as a society. If the recent movements to give greater voice to the victims of domestic or sexual violence have shown us anything, it is not only that such violence and sexual predation is wider spread than many were prepared to admit, but that it is still very hard to get such cases successfully prosecuted. Whether it is the rugby rape trial in Ireland, or the Greg Hardy case where he was found guilty initially but late cleared when the girlfriend who had been choked and thrown on a couch covered in assault rifles couldn’t be contacted to be tried again in front of a jury, it is hard to get justice or establish what happened.
If the legal system doesn’t seem to be serving victims and results in a confused situation, is it any wonder that sports leagues, setup to govern a sport are failing to adequately deal with it but that doesn’t mean they get a free pass. The NFL could handle this so much better. There is a world of difference between someone being denied the opportunity to make a living and having the right to play a sport for a lot of money. The NFL is already providing some training and resources to players, but they could both be more active in advocating for change and holding their players to a higher standard.
It is all too easy to slip into characterisation of men who commit assault or acts of domestic violence as men out of control. Yes there can be anger issues, sometimes substance abuse, and if these are a result of work environments then teams and the league have a duty of care to their players but the narrative of monsters is damaging because the problem is most commonly men. Most assaults on women are carried out by men they know, not random monsters or strangers but by someone they know. NFL players are people with specific talents but still people, and this is a problem that is not limited to sports stars, it is a reflection of very real problems that are far too prevalent in society. With the resources available to them sports franchises can do more and if you ask why, how about because they have the power to reach directly into the very culture that needs to change? If we are to stop this problem then men need to talk about it, call each other out on attitudes that need to change, and be willing allies in the changing of society. It’s not a simple thing and requires consistent engagement and discussion, but it’s that rather than paying lip service that will change things. Kareem Hunt has been asking for forgiveness and has acknowledged he has done wrong. He can ask for forgiveness, and maybe one day he can earn it, but it should take more than words to deserve it. It’s not something we can forget, and nor should we. Only his actions going forward can rehabilitate him but given his age and talent I suspect that we have not seen the last of him on a football field. I’m not sure if he can earn that chance in my eyes, and certainly the NFL should make damn sure he tries before they let him anywhere near the field, but I don’t know if they will. I’m not sure that doesn’t speak more eloquently about the scale of the problem than anything I have written in this post but I had to try. We all do.