It’s easy to pile on the National Football League after the newest story of player misconduct involving Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, but only because the NFL and its members have yet to demonstrate a continued and meaningful commitment to understanding, preventing and penalizing violence off-the-field.
On Nov. 30, the Chiefs rightly parted ways with their young star running back, Hunt, after video surfaced on TMZ of him shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel in February.
It was a decisive move from a team with a complex history related to off-field violence.
In 2012, Former Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who went to the University of Maine, killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then killed himself. In 2016, Kansas City decided to draft wide receiver Tyreek Hill, despite Hill previously pleading guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend while in college. According to the Kansas City Star, she was pregnant with their son at the time, the couple has since gotten engaged and Hill’s charges were eventually dismissed this year after he completed probation.
Whether the Chiefs organization has evolved on the overall issue of off-the-field violence or is simply motivated by the inescapably bad PR of a video like Hunt’s is up for debate. But the league’s claims that it tried to obtain the video from February don’t hold much water, particularly given the revelation from Hunt that the NFL didn’t even interview him about the altercation, which the league knew about and happened nine months ago.
That seemingly half-hearted attempt by NFL investigators, out-performed by TMZ reporters, raises questions about the NFL’s level of veracity and effort in seeking the truth in a case involving one of its most exciting and promising young players. If the NFL can spend millions of dollars, and more than a year looking into and litigating the air pressure of footballs, it should be able to interview relevant parties when there are allegations of violent impropriety off the field.
The NFL has placed Hunt on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, meaning he cannot practice, play or attend games. Police responded to the incident, but no charges were filed, according to ESPN.
The Hunt situation has echoes of the 2014 Ray Rice incident, where the former Baltimore Ravens running back was seen on camera knocking out his then-fiancee and now-wife in an elevator. It is important to point out, however, that unlike Rice’s case, Hunt’s violent actions should not be described as domestic violence because he did not really know the woman he shoves and kicks in the video. The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of controlling behavior, in the context of a current or former relationship, in which one person purposefully seeks to limit the human and civil rights of their partner.”
The Rice incident led to a new league personal conduct policy in 2014 and inspired the NFL Player’s Union to create a commission on domestic violence. Despite those seemingly positive steps in the right direction, two domestic violence experts tellingly left the commission earlier this year amid frustrations about its lack of progress.
One of those members, Deborah Epstein of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic penned an op-ed in the Washington Post detailing how she could no longer “be part of a body that exists in name only.”
“Authorizing a single study, and then burying it through a confidentiality agreement and shelving its recommendations does not constitute meaningful reform,” Epstein wrote.
In an interview with ESPN, Hunt accepted the Chief’s decision to release him and apologized for his actions. Based on other instances of player misconduct, It seems likely that some NFL team will eventually weather the bad press and take a chance on Hunt’s undeniable on-the-field talents.
The Washington Redskins, for example, recently signed linebacker Reuben Foster just days after the San Francisco 49ers released Foster following his second arrest on domestic violence charges. A member of Washington’s front office then made a remarkably bad statement in a radio interview about the controversial pickup, calling Foster’s baggage “small potatoes [compared to] a lot of things out there.”
As long as team executives keep making woefully out-of-touch statements, domestic violence experts feel stonewalled by the NFL Players Association and used for media relations, and the league appears slow to investigate bad behavior, the NFL will continue to have problems convincing the public that it takes off-the-field violence, particularly against domestic partners, seriously.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.