Following the release of Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt following video evidence of him assaulting a woman being published by TMZ Sports, there’s a lot of back patting, high-fiving, and general congratulations being handed out around NFL circles right now.
I mean sure, the video is utterly horrifying, and it’s not exactly a great look for the league when one of the integral pieces of Kansas City’s historically powerful offense is shown in this kind of light, but look at the reaction. Despite his talent and promise, Hunt was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list (basically a tool of indefinite suspension) and ultimately cut hours after the video was published. Turns out the league is actually taking domestic violence seriously. What a watershed moment of progress! Justice is served!
Not so fast.
While the surface level optics are lovely, it doesn’t take much of a deep dive into the NFL’s incredibly seedy history with domestic violence incidents to figure out that this was a series of moves centered around exactly that; surface level optics. While the decisions to suspend and release a player like Kareem Hunt are certainly historic, the NFL didn’t want to do it, the Chiefs didn’t want to do it, and if either party had their way, this video would have been deleted in some Anonymous hacking incident, and Kareem Hunt would be rushing for 400 yards against the Oakland Raiders this Sunday, regardless of what had actually happened that February night.
Now, I understand these are some bold accusations. What compelling evidence must I have to make such strong claims that the league only cares about image? Try the entire 98-year history of the National Football League, including—and arguably especially— the last five.
This incident happened in February. Now, I have a B.A., which means my math skills are suspect at best, but according to my calculations, that was over 10 months ago. This begs the question as to why most of the football universe is just hearing about it now. The NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs both said that they were aware of the incident, and they both claimed to be investigating it alongside law enforcement. At the same time, both the league and the team deny having seen the video itself until it was published by TMZ Sports on Friday. Personally, I don’t even begin to buy this as acceptable plausible deniability. I have two reasons for this.
The first is that, due to their vast resources and lack of the constitutional limits imposed on investigations by law enforcement, the NFL is capable of incredibly thorough investigations that often outstrip those of the police. Despite their limitless potential to gather information on these types of situations, the NFL somehow failed to acquire this incredibly incriminating video until TMZ Sports plastered it all over the internet.
That argument by itself, while compelling, isn’t enough to reasonably prove willful ignorance by itself. Those folks over at TMZ are pretty crafty, and it’s conceivably possible that, with their own considerable capacity to dig up dirt on almost anyone, they found the video before the NFL. I mean, everybody makes mistakes right? That would almost be believable, except for the fact that this very NFL administration already made that excuse in 2013, when they tried to only suspend Baltimore’s Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice for only two games after a similar incident with his then-girlfriend, now-wife Janay Palmer. The league slapped Rice on the wrist, only to end up suspending him again, this time indefinitely, when—you guessed it— good ol’ TMZ Sports published the video from the elevator camera that showed Rice knocking Palmer out with a clean right hand and dragging her unconscious frame to their hotel room. The NFL claimed to have never seen the video, but they were later proven to have been sent the video five months prior. The incident sparked a national conversation around violence against women, and the NFL was absolutely obliterated across platforms for their handling of the situations. This lead to the baseline of a six-game suspension for any player who engaged in domestic violence.
Needless to say, it’s the kind of mistake you only make once. So why then would the NFL either lie or remain intentionally ignorant?
It’s rather simple. If the league was willing to objectively lie to protect Rice, an aging veteran lacking the form that had earned him his Pro-Bowl reputation, you’ll be goddamn sure they’d do it for Kareem Hunt, a second-year player who is also a central piece in the 2018 Chiefs offense. It’s not like the ethical implications of employing people who have been associated with domestic violence records has bothered the league before. The NFL’s ethical compass is defined by the people who put the most money in the league’s pocket. Parents and flag-waving conservatives alike have poured money into the league for years. These demographics have specific positions on specific issues, and accordingly, an otherworldly talent like Josh Gordon spent many of his prime years on suspension for smoking a little weed and hurting absolutely no one. Conversely, women have made up a minority of the league’s historical fanbase, so Greg Hardy gets a second contract, Rueben Foster gets picked off waivers after three days without a job, and domestic violence allegations against everyone from Dez Bryant to Adrian Peterson get reduced down to piddling footnotes on eloquently waxed legacies.
And don’t think I’m leaving the Chiefs out of this either. They may have dropped the ax on Kareem Hunt in what appeared to be a swift fashion, but they too knew about these allegations for months beforehand and said nothing. There is no argument on this earth rhetorically sound enough to persuade me that the team that employs future All-Pro and convicted domestic assault perpetrator Tyreek Hill gives a microscopic crawling fuck about women, or frankly, anything outside of public image and winning football games.
So after approximately 98 years—give or take—of being totally unmoved to combat domestic violence in a meaningful way, what forced the league to suddenly cannibalize one of it’s rising stars in the name of self-preservation? As GSC writer Al Neal broke down on our Slack client, it took a variety of coinciding factors.
One factor is the Me Too movement. While the central theme of Me Too is sexual assault, it has brought coercion and violence against women into the forefront of public discourse. Imagine the disaster that the Ray Rice saga would have been if American media had already been engaged in a major conversation related to gender-based violence. It could have legitimately ended up with the commissioner facing the ax instead of one player getting blackballed.
There’s also the matter of the anthem protests. Social justice has been on the minds and lips of the NFL world for the last couple years, and while this can certainly be tied to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem, one movement can only be the media’s central focus before coverage fatigue sets in. Most of us seem to have collectively hit that fatigue point going into this NFL season, which has cleared the way for domestic violence to once again be the issue de-jour should the league have not responded to this video with the appropriate severity.
Separate from both of those factors is the possibility of an impending work stoppage in 2021, as players and owners are once again ready for battle over many key bargaining issues that left the 2011 CBA largely slanted in the owners’ favor. With the controversy around the commissioner’s level of power in the high profile suspension cases of Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliot, the league can ill-afford to have additional off-field issues in play to curry favor for the players among the general public.
Regardless of whatever the actual reasons are at play in the actions related to Kareem Hunt’s suspension and release, the NFL has done nothing to earn the benefit of having their intentions assumed to be noble. Quite the opposite, in fact. While it’s incredibly sad to see the game that we love constantly mired in controversy from outside the lines, it’s equally depressing to be left convinced that money and media are the only things that motivate the powers that be to do anything about it.