It always amazing me as a child that there were instances when I knew more than a grown adult. I was no child prodigy, but I knew I how to work a VCR or a cellphone long before I graduated to tying my shoelaces. Yet, here I was showing my parents or their friends how the future had dropped into the present. A big-mouthed child tech support. It was my first time realizing that adults don’t know everything.
You learn this lesson a little earlier as a sports fan. No one has taken more pies to the face in regards to public relation faux pas than the National Football League. Don’t get my wrong, the product on the field is good — with the exception of the roughing, passer penalties and flags thrown during kickoffs. Where the league falls short is in its handling of serious legal issues. In the span of two weeks, the league has suffered two significant public relation hits regarding domestic violence.
Former San Francisco 49ers’ LB Reuben Foster was arrested after getting in a confrontation with an ex-girlfriend. Foster has a torrid history of domestic abuse allegations dating back to his days in college. For their part, the 49ers tried to help the young man work through his issues. They were patient with a player who showed promise on the field. Unfortunately, that support did not sink in with the 24 year old — his most recent arrest resulted in his unconditional release from the Bay Area.
However, your talent can make the landing after punishment a soft one. That was the case with Foster, who was released by the Niners and claimed by the Washington Redskins a short time into the waiver process. Before the league had a bigger scandal on its hands, Foster was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List as soon as the transaction went through. Being placed on the list means that Foster cannot practice or play in any game for Washington until Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL’s head office gives their okay.
However, the damage had been done. An accused domestic abuser was released from one NFL team after showing a history of disturbing off-field behaviour, only for another NFL franchise to swoop in and pick him up to improve their roster. Some were caught off-guard by the release and immediate signing with another team, but the priority placed on winning is that high — a trait that is not unique to football. However, the cost to be a contender has no floor for some that only see profits and championship banners in the forecast. It’s part of the reason why those who are less talented see their careers end unceremoniously, whereas a star receives numerous chances before the league gives up on him.
It’s as part of the flawed system that the NFL has with its punishment relating to matters that have little to do with down markers and digits on a scoreboard. From Michael Vick to Josh Gordon, the league has been chided for its handling (or lack thereof) of legal matters. Having become the punching bag of social media and sports pundit across North America, the league continues to live up to its image of being unaware and conservative about protecting the standard of its product.
The inefficiencies of the league shone through a week after the Foster situation. News about Kansas City Chiefs’ RB Kareem Hunt getting into some kind of altercation became news before the 2018 season. While the initial report was brushed aside, it appeared that the dust had settled on the controversy before it could begin. The case turned into a ‘he said, she said’ that was dismissed as a simple disagreement. However, the pavement pounding journalistic institute TMZ managed to secure a copy of the hotel footage from the night in question, and the evidence was as damning as one could imagine.
For his part, Hunt admitted that he lied to the KC brass about his role and actions in the ‘altercation.’ The former Toledo Rocket won the NFL rushing title last season with 1,327 yards, yet he did not behave like a pro bowl back off-field. Instead, the video shows him rushing a woman, shoving her and kicking her while she was down. The context of the incident remains in question with each side disputing the other, but the film doesn’t lie: Hunt escalated the incident with physical violence.
The failure of the NFL here is that it did not step in to interview Hunt, the accuser or the hotel about the events that occured on film. Instead, they left it up to the team to investigate and arrive at their own conclusion. Given the investigative nature of the league — teams hire private investigators to dig up information on draft prospects — the NFL has the resources to discover what happened at that hotel. It leaves you wondering if they were apathetic to the issue or didn’t want to know what took place.
Of course, this situation sounds eerily similar to that of former Baltimore Ravens’ RB Ray Rice, who knocked out his then-fiancee in an elevator and was hit with a one game suspension until a video was released that captured the horrific event. The small improvement in this situation is that Hunt was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List as soon as the video went viral and the league headquarters caught notice. For every step forward, such as the My Cause, My Cleats initiative, the league appears to get knocked down a few notches by their public relations department — read about the handling of the Colin Kaepernick situation, for example.
While everyone takes aim with their ire at the NFL, we need to ask: What’s the solution moving forward? Should the NFL have an infractions committee that works with law enforcement and sets guidelines for those who break not only the law, but the league’s code of conduct? Those punitive powers were collectively bargained to be encompassed by the commissioner. It’s part of the reason why the NFL Player’s Association was concerned with one man being the judge, jury and executioner in matters of misconduct away from the field. The commissioner and the NFL’s head office continue to be crucified for what many see as the mishandling of these situations.
For the sake of its own brand integrity, the NFL needs to pick up the shield and make some changes, or else that public ridicule will continue moving forward.