In 2014 the NFL apologized for mishandling the domestic violence incident between then-Baltimore running back Ray Rice and his wife. Following an arrest and an indictment for aggravated assault, Rice was suspended for two games by the NFL per its policy. However, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged his mistakes in a letter to NFL team owners in which he rewrote the NFL domestic Violence protocol to extend suspension to six games for a first offense and a lifetime suspension for the second. Following the letter, video evidence was released to the public of Rice’s altercation prompting his termination by the Ravens and his indefinite suspension by the NFL. After a prolonged appeal process Rice was eventually reinstated though he never signed another NFL contract. Though few positives can ever be found in a domestic violence situation, there were those who believed that the Rice incident would, at the very least, provide the catalyst for fundamental and positive changes in the NFL regarding domestic violence.

Moving to the present, the 2019 NFL season was once again marred by the release of another violent tape, this one concerning then-Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt. In the footage, Hunt is shown striking and kicking a woman in a Cleveland-area hotel as multiple people attempt to restrain and separate the two. The incident, which took place in February 2018, was brought to the attention of the Chiefs but no public action was taken against Hunt until the video was released in November. Following the video, the Chiefs front office claimed Hunt lied to them about the severity of the incident and subsequently released him. Commissioner Goodell then placed Hunt on the Commissioners exempt list barring him from playing until removed but not preventing him from being paid should he sign with a new team. However, unlike Rice, Hunt recently signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Browns with the expectation that he will one day play in the NFL again.

The domestic violence incidents and the NFL’s response are eerily similar and beg the question, what has the League and Roger Goodell actually changed? Following the Rice incident, the NFL’s reworked Domestic Violence protocols implemented (1) a six-game suspension without pay; (2) a lifetime ban for repeat offenders; and (3) a “new and enhanced” education and resource system. Yet the case of Kareem Hunt is hardly the first incident of domestic violence the NFL has encountered following the new protocols, and in the last five years, a player has been suspended under the new protocols only once. Recent incidents like that of Hunt, Ray McDonald, and Reuben Foster have largely been overlooked simply because their athletic ability and financial value outweigh potential negative press or games missed to suspension. While both Hunt and Foster may yet be suspended under the Rice-induced protocol, the fact that both players have been signed to new teams prior to a decision on their status gives a clear indication that the NFL may need to take a tougher stance on incidents involving violence against women.

This is not to say that individuals who engage in violent acts against women cannot be rehabilitated with appropriate consequences and counseling. The NFL has committed itself to providing the necessary resources to its player in both a preventative and remedial fashion. Yet despite the continuance of violent interactions among NFL players, some say the simple fact that a quality NFL player was cut from his original team is a sign of progress. Indeed, this is correct, prior to the Rice incident it was possible that a violent altercation of this nature may have been swept under the rug. However, when progress is a pay-cut and moving to a new city, the results are hardly satisfying.  It is time for the NFL to admit that it has continued to mishandle violent incidents within the current system. Rather than continue to appear as an inept, reactionary body, the NFL should take this spike in incidents as an opportunity to step forward as a strong advocate, not only against violence, but for accountability and respect. The NFL is not the only professional sports league plagued by players involved in violent incidents, but it is a league that captures the attention of the American and global media. New policies might include (1) freezing a player’s ability of sign or play until after a pending criminal investigation is completed, (2) continuing the mandatory rehabilitation counseling prior to reinstatement, and (3) more serious enforcement of the current six game suspension and potential ban. Until the NFL takes a hardline stance for justice, profitability will continue to come before accountability.



Matt Horton


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