It’s certainly understandable that the National Football League is better at handling football issues than it is at handling off-field misbehaviour by people within its ranks. But the NFL is improving, perhaps because it is getting so much practice.
The latest incident involves star running back Kareem Hunt, who has been dropped by the Kansas City Chiefs after tabloid news website TMZ released a video which showed Hunt pushing and kicking a woman during a February scuffle at a Cleveland hotel. The league placed him on the commissioner’s exempt list on Friday, meaning Hunt could not practise or play while the NFL investigated the incident. The Chiefs followed that move by cutting Hunt, who admitted he lied to the team about the episode.
Sports leagues have had to deal with a rising tide of domestic violence cases in recent years and, to their credit, most are now dealing with such incidents with a firm hand. In Major League Baseball, for example, Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell will serve a 40-game domestic violence suspension when the next baseball season begins for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Though Russell has denied the allegations made by his ex-wife, he accepted the penalty handed down in October.
Early last season, Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was charged with domestic violence and was given a 75-game suspension by MLB. Osuna later agreed to a peace bond and the charge was withdrawn. Osuna’s suspension was far tougher than the 15-game suspension fellow closer Jeurys Familia received in 2017 when he was with the New York Mets.
The NFL has had a number of such incidents. In September 2014, Sports Illustrated reported that between Jan. 1, 2012 and Sept. 17, 2014, 33 NFL players had been arrested on charges involving domestic violence, battery, assault and even murder, and 15 of those cases involved violence against women. The most high-profile of these was the infamous Ray Rice episode. Rice, then a star running back with the Baltimore Ravens, was shown on a surveillance video (again released by TMZ) assaulting his then-fiancee (now wife). The league initially fumbled the handling of the incident, announcing a two-game suspension for Rice. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell later acknowledged making a mistake with the punishment and Rice was later suspended indefinitely. It marked the end of Rice’s NFL career.
The NFL has been criticized for its late reaction to the Kareem Hunt incident, but the NFL noted it had been barred from reviewing the video because the hotel said its policy prevented it from making the video available to anyone other than law enforcement authorities, and Cleveland police weren’t pursuing the case.
The fact the Chiefs cut Hunt from the roster after the video made clear the player had not been forthcoming about the incident is an indication that the NFL is taking domestic violence seriously. It should send a strong message to other players that such behaviour is not acceptable, no matter how talented or important a player might be. Hunt’s absence will be a blow to a Chiefs team that is looking like a strong Super Bowl contender, but some things are more important than football.
If sports leagues hit offending players and other personnel where it hurts — in the paycheque and by taking away the game they love — perhaps the message will eventually sink in that acts of violence against women will not be tolerated, and maybe things will start to change.