As Yogi Berra famously remarked, “It’s deja vu all over again“. Today’s release of the video of Kareem Hunt viciously attacking a young woman days after Reuben Foster’s second arrest for assaulting his girlfriend spotlights the NFL’s continuing challenges in addressing domestic violence. In 2014, Commissioner Goodell had the unhappy task of revisiting the penalty originally assessed against Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice when dramatic video was released provoking widespread outrage. The footage obtained by TMZ showed Rice cold-cocking his then-fiance, Janay Palmer, and then callously dragging her inert body out of the elevator after the assault. Goodell revised his initial penalty of a two game suspension to an indefinite one, claiming that Ray Rice had not been “truthful” about the details of the altercation when he originally met with the NFL. The indefinite suspension was ultimately overturned in arbitration, when former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones determined that Rice had NOT “lied to, or misled, the NFL”. This saga was the lowlight of a two year period in which fifteen NFL players were arrested for domestic violence.
The parallels to 2018 are unmistakable. Kareem Hunt was involved in a violent incident last February with a young woman that resulted in a 911 call and which was being investigated by both Cleveland police and the NFL. Hunt, who was a rookie selection to the Pro Bowl in 2017, didn’t miss a moment of practice or a game – until the TMZ video was released earlier today. Within 20 minutes of that release, Hunt was dismissed from the Chiefs’ facility. Hours later, Hunt was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and shortly thereafter he was released by the Chiefs. The Chiefs issued a statement asserting that Hunt originally “was not truthful” about the February altercation. Sound familiar? Why couldn’t the NFL (again!) obtain the videos that were obtained by TMZ? If it’s a question of cost, does TMZ have more resources than the NFL? What is the price of upholding a commitment to be steadfast in demanding that NFL personnel “at all times . . . be people of high character”?
Why, four years later, does the NFL find itself scrambling to explain why it took yet another TMZ video nine months after the incident to prompt disciplinary action? Why has the NFL yet to address the fact that the Washington franchise signed Reuben Foster after the San Francisco 49ers cut him following his arrest for a physical altercation with his girlfriend at the team hotel last Saturday night? Why didn’t the NFL respond when Doug Williams, Washington’s Senior Vice-President of Player Personnel, did his utmost to excuse Foster’s conduct in a radio interview following the signing?
Clearly, decisive action is needed. The NFL needs to:
1) Live up to the Personal Conduct Policy. When someone – anyone – affiliated with the League violates the Policy, they must suffer the consequences, whether or not they are a Pro Bowl player. Former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson paid the price for his misconduct. Kareem Hunt should as well.
2) Invest in the investigation process. If TMZ can get those videos, so can the NFL. Period. And it shouldn’t take nine months to do it.
3) Require everyone to comply – including Daniel Snyder. While giving a second chance to someone may be laudable, after 3, 4, 5? Come on. Washington should never have been able to sign Foster. You have to wonder if Kareem Hunt is next on their to-do list. The fact that Washington did that – and was allowed to – eviscerates every effort the NFL has made to address domestic violence.
While the NFL may never have anticipated that any team would make that reprehensible choice, now that it has happened it must be addressed. Maybe Daniel Snyder should be fined for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL?
It is to be hoped that NFL recognizes this wake-up call. While domestic violence matters are never easily handled, like most messy situations, it is always better to confront them head-on. The Personal Conduct Policy is a good start. The challenge is creating and fostering a culture in which everyone is committed to living up to it, at the League and the Club level. Written policies help, but they must be consistently applied, and they are only as good as the people who implement them.
Helen A. “Nellie” Drew is an expert in sports law, including professional and amateur sports issues ranging from NCAA compliance and Title IX matters to facility construction, discipline of professional athletes, collective bargaining and franchise issues. Drew formerly served as an officer and in-house counsel to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, after previously working as outside counsel to the Sabres and the NHL. Among her more interesting experiences were assisting former USSR superstar Alexander Mogilny in obtaining asylum status in the U.S. and working on multiple NHL expansions, including San Jose, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Drew teaches a variety of courses that incorporate topics such as drug testing in professional sports and professional player contract negotiation and arbitration. She is especially interested in the evolving research and litigation concerning concussions in both amateur and professional sports.