Photo Credit: The New York Times
The NFL is not a perfect organization. Despite all the money they make, all the success they have, and the fact that they are the main source of revenue for the biggest sport in America, there are plenty of flaws that they need to address. From the concussion issue to taking care of players after retirement, to the various rules that both refs and fans struggle to understand, all these are problems that need to be addressed by the league office. But one of the biggest, and one that seems to continually be in the news is their issue with players getting involved with domestic violence cases and how those players are disciplined.
According to USA Today, over 120 NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence since 2000. That’s around 6 or 7 a year- It is safe to call this a reoccurring problem in the league. But just as big of a problem as the DV is, the way that the league deals with punishment afterward seems to be just as big of a problem, especially recently.
An especially recent instance of this is the problems the league has had with Reuben Foster. Foster is an extremely, extremely talented linebacker that was taken as a first-round pick out of Alabama in 2017. Foster was drafted by the 49ers, and had an excellent rookie year- graded first among rookie linebackers and fourth overall among linebackers for the 2017 season. In February 2018, however, Foster was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, among other charges. Foster, after this arrest, was suspended for 2 games by the NFL, for a violation of their personal conduct policy- but the suspension was not for the domestic violence charge, it was for those other charges- a weapons offense and a misdemeanor drug charge. Rather than further investigate the DV charge, or punish him for it, after those two games he was allowed to come back to the team and play. But, as DV cases usually go, he was arrested again in November for another allegation that he struck his girlfriend. This time, the 49ers did the right thing and released him immediately. However, shortly after- less than a week actually- he was scooped up off waivers by the Redskins.
What does the NFL care about regarding its’ players and their conduct? Do they actually care that their players are law-abiding citizens or are they more concerned with their public image? It is arguable that it is one of the only employers which would continue to, after reviewing and punishing an employee for domestic violence, would continue to employ them if they committed (allegedly) another act of the same crime. One of the league’s biggest problems seems to be that until a video comes out in public of said DV offense, they seem to be content to push it under the rug until it goes out of people’s minds. Take the examples of Ray Rice and Kareem Hunt. Both players were extremely talented running backs who committed acts of violence against women with security cameras around.
Ray Rice, pictured above with his wife, Janay, was arrested- along with her- after they were involved in a physical altercation at a hotel on February 15, 2014. Four days later, a video surfaced on TMZ of Rice dragging her from an elevator that night. This led to the NFL suspending Rice for 2 games after a brief investigation. However, they failed to investigate further to find out if there was more video or if there was more that happened that night besides just the short video clip. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even had a disciplinary meeting with Rice and his wife, where she apparently convinced him that nothing besides what was on the video happened that night. And because they neglected to investigate further (or did investigate further but didn’t want to release their findings), Goodell was convinced and let Rice off with that 2 game suspension.
Just 2 months later, though, another video came out of Rice and his wife in the elevator that night, in which he punched her in the face repeatedly until she was almost unconscious. After this came out, Rice was released by the Ravens. This is the NFL’s problem: They will refuse to further look into potentially incriminating situations when it comes to DV, or sweep them under the rug until video or other proof comes out to the public eye, then they are forced to act or look bad. The same thing happened recently with ex-Chief RB Kareem Hunt. Hunt was involved in an altercation in February 2018, where he shoved a woman and kicked her while she was on the ground. The Chiefs were made aware of the incident and met with Hunt about it just days later, where he downplayed what happened. Just like with Rice, the Chiefs (and the NFL) did not further investigate the situation, or did and attempted to let it die without becoming public. Hunt was not disciplined. Months later though, in late November, TMZ again released the video of Hunt in the incident, and this video went viral. Later that day, Hunt was released by the Chiefs.
These three cases show a terrible pattern the NFL has fallen into of either not caring about DV enough to properly investigate its’ players when they are involved in it, or even worse, investigating and keeping things under wraps until they are made public through video and they are forced to act or look bad in the public eye. Changes need to be made to their DV and investigative policies, and this starts at the top with Commissioner Goodell. If the NFL wants to keep a decent image, or honestly at this point recover their poor image, they need to make these changes before another similar problem happens.