Commentary: Fumbling Between Right and Wrong

In March of 2014, the N.F.L.’s Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, was arrested on charges of domestic violence for assaulting his ex-fiancée, Janay Palmer. The N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, proceeded to only suspend him for the first two games of the upcoming season. It was not until T.M.Z. released a video of the incident in September of 2014 that the N.F.L. recognized the magnitude and severity of what happened and suspended Rice indefinitely. Despite correcting their mistake, the N.F.L. was scrutinized — and rightfully so — for its failure to adequately investigate and punish Rice. Despite the  N.F.L.’s ability to learn from their error, they continue to fail.

In August of 2014, while facing scrutiny for Rice’s two game suspension, Goodell wrote a letter to all N.F.L. owners in which he promised to ramp up the punishment for N.F.L. players that violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy relating to assault and violence. He said that the penalty would entail a suspension of at least six games. The N.F.L., however, suspended New York Giants kicker Josh Brown for only two games after his being accused of, and later admitting to, domestic violence. It is evident that the N.F.L. and Goodell have failed to live up to their promises.

It has been over five years since the Rice incident, yet we were reminded of it last week when T.M.Z. released a horrific video featuring former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. In the video, Hunt is seen attacking and kicking a 19-year-old woman in the hallway outside of  his hotel in Cleveland earlier this year. Immediately following the assault, the victim notified the Cleveland Police Department about what happened, but the police did not arrest or charge Hunt.

Soon after the incident, the N.F.L. launched its own investigation into the matter. The league concluded that Hunt was innocent and did not punish him. During their investigation, however, the league failed to interview Hunt or the woman he assaulted. The N.F.L. should never have stopped investigating the matter without obtaining detailed accounts from both Hunt and the victim as to what exactly happened on that night.

According to N.F.L. Reporter Benjamin Allbright, the league was aware of the video. If this is true, it appears as if the N.F.L. is indifferent of the matter at hand. The league simply took a back seat and watched Kareem Hunt play the first eleven games of the season while allowing the possibility that he could be guilty of domestic violence. For the second time in four years, the N.F.L. failed to sufficiently investigate and punish one of its star players accused of a brutal assault.

Additionally, in Goodell’s letter he promised to increase the N.F.L.’s role in preventing and raising awareness for sexual assault and domestic violence. Even though the N.F.L. has done some things to raise awareness, they have not done nearly enough for it to be truly impactful. In 2014, the N.F.L. launched a “No More” campaign, where the league produced 60-second videos to be put on television during commercial breaks, and yet the N.F.L. has not released one of these videos in years. ThinkProgress reports that the league has stopped funding the campaign altogether.

The message conveyed by the N.F.L. over the last years appears to be that they only want to deal with issues of football. The league spent a lot of time and resources to investigate and suspend New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games regarding his alleged deflating of game-used footballs. When it comes criminal matters, however, the N.F.L. has spent very little effort to investigate or punish players accused of domestic violence or assault.

As a fan it has been difficult for me to continue watching the game. Once the N.F.L. makes a conscious decision to investigate domestic violence and abuse, all fans and players can return to what we all want to do: focus on the game.