The NFL’s Ugly Reality

I was eating lunch yesterday when I saw a startling headline that said the Chicago Bears could be set to offer Kareem Hunt a second chance at life in the NFL. Before I continue, I want to be abundantly clear: I do not condone the behavior exhibited (and later ignored for months by the NFL and Kansas City Chiefs) by Hunt. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in second chances, but men like Ray Rice had to find that second chance outside of the NFL.

That’s exactly what I think has to be the case with Hunt due to the circumstances that surrounded his case. This is something that has been well-documented with numerous articles dedicated to the inadequacy of how the NFL handles domestic violence issues. The fact that Hunt can even be signed by another team following the release of the video and the surrounding circumstances is appalling to me, and disgusts me with the state of the NFL.

However, let’s look at the bright side of this. Hunt was swiftly punished by the Chiefs (following their prior shortcomings in investigating the facts of the case). The case made such a big fuss that Hunt found himself removed from Madden Ultimate Team in EA’s Madden 19. However, it did not fully remove Hunt from the game as Hunt can still be drafted in Franchise mode and is still on the default Chiefs roster in the game. Why does this matter? This is both good and bad because EA had a chance to make a statement by removing him entirely from the game through a simple patch that it demonstrated the capability of installing in the game, but it only wiped him from the Ultimate Team part of the game.

Let’s examine another case: Reuben Foster. Foster has had a long history of disciplinary issues that dates back to his time at the University of Alabama. In January 2018, Foster was charged with possession of marijuana, but defeated the charge by completing a first-time offender course. One month later, he was charged with three felonies, but was only convicted on one count which was downgraded to a misdemeanor. Foster was suspended for two games this past season for violating the personal conduct policy, and struggled with injuries before his final incident which led to his release. When he was arrested at the team hotel the night before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Foster was put on waivers the following Monday, as reported by the Associated Press.

The big controversy that followed was the signing of Foster by the Washington Redskins. Foster was signed three days after his placement on waivers before he was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List as his case was processed. Ultimately, the charge was dropped, but the NFL did not do enough to make sure that Foster couldn’t be signed by another team. For Redskins fans, it wasn’t much of a shock that their front office made another misstep, but this is something that has to be explained to fans. How do you tell the wives and girlfriends of players that you care about how they are respected by your organization when you sign a player who had been charged with domestic violence twice in the span of eight months? The answer is quite simple: you can’t, at least with a straight face.

The final player I want to take a look at is Joe Mixon. You may be wondering why I point to him, but he had a nasty incident during his days at the University of Oklahoma. While there, he punched a woman in the head after she allegedly rejected his sexual advances on her. Bob Stoops, Mixon’s coach at Oklahoma opened up on the incident in 2016, saying that a one-year suspension, the punishment Mixon received, would no longer be sufficient today. Despite the incident, Mixon was drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals even though he was not allowed to participate in the NFL Combine due to his 2014 incident.

Although the #MeToo movement had not yet risen to its peak in 2016, respect for the rights of women had with the ascendance of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. Perhaps Mixon was lucky, but I argue that he benefited from a flawed system in the NFL that allows embattled players more chances than they would actually receive in the real world. If I was filmed doing any of the things that these players were caught doing, I would almost certainly be fired from my job and forever stained, left to pick up the pieces of my life. However, fame is ironic is what it affords (or in Rice’s case, doesn’t afford) those who play the most popular American sport and those who make millions playing it.

In Major League Baseball, the shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, Addison Russell, was suspended immediately after it was discovered that he had a domestic violence issue with his girlfriend. This is an example of how these issues should be handled (although the Cubs have certainly screwed up by tendering him): swiftly. The Commissioner’s Office thoroughly investigated the matter and decided that firm action was needed, and it executed it. Unlike the NFL, which has selective fact finding when it comes to these issues, Commissioner Rob Manfred got it right. Even though Russell is under contract with the Cubs for the upcoming season, they announced that he will not be present at the team’s major marquee event, Cubs Convention, this weekend.

The best way to wrap this up is to return to its beginning, Ray Rice. Rice never played another NFL snap after video surfaced of him punching his then fianceé, but he managed to put his life back together. Rice and his finaceé, Janay Palmer, eventually married after attending counseling and proved that it is possible to move on. Rice will never escape the shadow of that video, but he now serves as an assistant coach of his high school football team, and is grateful for his second chance with his wife.

Although it has made progress, the NFL still has a long way to go before it can say that it has found a way to appropriately handle cases of domestic violence. Until then, the NFL has to deal with the ugly reality that it is behind the times when it comes to understanding the complexities of domestic violence. A good first step would be to start investigating these cases more seriously and not letting a paywall for police video stand in their way.

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