Fixing The NFL’s Non-Existent Domestic Violence and Assault Policy

It’s time to dethrone King Goodell and take a more level-headed and transparent approach to crucial decision making.

Nearly four-and-a-half years after Ray Rice’s horrendous actions brought the NFL to its knees, the National Football League is leading the way in North American professional sports when it comes to issues of domestic violence, assault, and abuse.

Wait, that’s not what happened??

You mean to tell me there have been several more cases of current NFL players being accused of violent acts, and the league still hasn’t figured out how to eradicate violent offenders and show basic human empathy to victims?

Recently, running back Kareem Hunt was the subject of an ugly video obtained by TMZ in which he was seen shoving and then kicking a woman. Hunt was released by the Kansas City Chiefs mere hours after the video’s release. Like the 2014 Ray Rice incident, the video surfaced well afterward and action from the league did not come until the public had seen and been outraged by the video.

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The difference here is the Chiefs were decisive in their conclusion to release the All-Pro running back, doing so within minutes of the league’s decision to place Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would have kept him from playing.

Of course, the team was aware of the incident and the league had already conducted an “investigation” well before the video was released. But once again, TMZ dug something up the mighty NFL was unable to find, and Hunt’s immediate football career was over hours later.

So what exactly is keeping the NFL from simply instituting a true no-tolerance policy? Cleary, individual teams can’t get out of their own way and need to be saved from themselves, as the Washington Redskins reminded everyone last week with Reuben Foster.

Seriously, could Washington Senior VP of Player Personnel and NFL lifer Doug Williams sound any more tone deaf? “I’ve got six daughters,” Assault is assault regardless of whether you have a daughter, and it shouldn’t take having offspring to understand that. “The high risk was the beat-up that we’re going to take from PR.” Yeah, everyone understands the risk, but did it need to be phrased that way? Oh, and somehow, a case in which a man shoved and kicked a woman doesn’t exactly seem like “small potatoes”. Yikes.

Why won’t the NFL take a stand and adhere to a conduct policy? The league does it when it comes to drugs, so why not for domestic violence and assault?

While the current approach of waiting for the legal process to play out makes sense in theory, there are 50 states and each has different policies and speeds at which they operate when it comes to domestic violence and other abuse cases. While a player who is actually convicted of a crime could automatically be suspended, what about the many players who are accused or even charged of a crime but not ultimately convicted? Do they all deserve to get off scot-free?

Let’s agree that if and hopefully when the NFL cracks this apparently complex code, it will still be at least a half-decade too late — as if Greg Hardy and Tyreek Hill weren’t enough of a hint that the league has issues in between the Rice and Hunt incidences.

Now that we’re on the same page, here’s a simple three-step proposal to help direct the league’s evolution.

  1. Implement an advisory board in the NFL office.
  2. Add an “exempt” list for each team.
  3. Allow the league to take their time to get it right.
  1. Implement an advisory board in the NFL office.

The league took a step in the right direction with the hiring of Lisa Friel, a former New York sex-crimes prosecutor brought in to lead investigations in the wake of the embarrassing mishandling of the Ray Rice incident. Now it’s time for a true panel of experts. It has been more than four years, after all, and things have only gotten worse, not better.

The board should include law enforcement influence: former detectives with backgrounds in investigating domestic violence, assault, and sex crimes. It should have medical experts and attorneys with background in similar areas of expertise. Think of this panel of experts similar to the independent neurologists that are present in every NFL stadium on game days; they will have no rooting interest and exist to get it right.

  1. Add a team-by-team “exempt” list.

Once an incident occurs, a player would be automatically placed on something resembling the current commissioner’s exempt list, except each team will have their own such list, similar to the Physically Unable to Perform List. This would allow the team to retain the player’s rights while backfilling the roster spot. Players must stay on the list until the league’s investigation is complete.

  1. Allow the league to take their time to get it right.

The league can now exercise complete control over the situation, and any allegation of violence that is credible enough for the player to be charged with a crime would trigger a move to the exempt list. It will allow the league to complete its investigation and take the onus off the team, thereby saving the franchise from having to make a call on their own.

It’s unclear what the league would even be risking in this scenario. If a good player misses games while a serious legal matter is resolved off the field, so be it. It’s unquestionably better than horrendous deeds going unpunished, only to resurface again months later as in the case of Rice or Hunt. It would also go a long way toward dispelling the notion that the league will only act if there’s video, as if everyone is shocked to find out what assault really is. To this point that’s clearly the NFL’s take on the matter, and it’s easily one of the most appalling facets of this whole mess.

From a player perspective, the new rules would be preferable to a blanket no-tolerance policy that could result in a significant number of players being banned. Players won’t lose any money while on the list either. For the league, the optics of a thoughtful process would be far better than the clown show we’ve seen over the last half-decade, and, believe it or not, the league would have a real shot at getting things right when it comes to player discipline.

The second piece of this is the importance of transparency. As it is, the ruling of Commissioner Roger Goodell is seemingly not rooted in facts or, at the very least, a truly rigorous investigation, but in his own judgment. And in case you were wondering, Goodell is not exactly a private eye.

The advisory board will exist for the sole purpose of getting it right, and the length of time it takes or the resources needed don’t matter. The other piece of this is to allow the league to save face, of course, but that will come along naturally with simply doing right by the victims of these crimes. Do the right thing on the front end, and positive PR will follow.

The NFL has done an astonishing job at tripping all over themselves on a clear and straightforward issue. Sure, some of the nuance can be admittedly complex when it comes to exactly how and when players should face league consequences. But it’s absurd to consider it a legitimate excuse for the NFL to not at least attempt to come up with a standard operating procedure for when a player is accused of domestic violence or assault.

Baseball has arbitration hearings for contract disputes between teams and player agents. Pharmaceutical companies and plenty of other businesses have advisory boards of their own. If the problem of domestic violence is going remain an ongoing issue in the NFL — and unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe it won’t — then the league needs to get out of its own way and rely on the expert opinions of independent consultants to make these rulings.

There’s no reason an entity with the sheer volume of resources the NFL enjoys can’t simply put its mind on a solution, and it’s long past time for Roger Goodell and the NFL to think outside the box. We cannot have another Kareem Hunt or a Ray Rice. It’s up to the league to find a uniform way to handle these major off-the-field issues now and going forward.

Ben Beecken
Ben Beecken
Ben Beecken is a writer at Grandstand Central with a primary focus on the NBA, MLB, and NFL. He has spent nearly a decade working on the business side of sports including eight seasons in minor league baseball team front offices. Ben is also an editor and writer at Dunking With Wolves and a contributor across the FanSided network.


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