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Keidel: NFL Absurdly Behind On Domestic Violence Matters

Hunt Situation Proves League Hasn't Learned Its Lesson

Jason Keidel
December 03, 2018 - 1:22 pm
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Many times, the inspirational sports story is often the American story. Hollywood has green-lit some of the most poignant sports stories in the history of cinema. From "Hoosiers" to "Rudy" to "Brian's Song," our film archives are stuffed with the Homeric, athletic journey that makes us proud to play and follow our games. 

Yet for a sport with such a hypnotic hold on American culture, considered so progressive and philanthropic and forward-thinking, the NFL has been woefully blind to some of its most troubling issues. Chief among them is domestic violence. 

A few years ago, the NFL banned Ray Rice indefinitely for knocking out a woman who would soon become his wife. It was the legislative version of the atom bomb, the NFL's nuclear deterrent that would surely discourage, if not end, their players' violence against women.  

But even then there was rampant cynicism. Did the NFL do it because of its conscience or because it was caught? Remember Rice was only banned for a few games until the video of his attack became the horror film of the week. It was one of those grotesque videos that we watched over and over either to make sure it was real or to satisfy some tabloid curiosity, or both. 

We can argue whether the punishment fit the crime, but we can say with certainty whether the league learned its lesson. 

Nope. 

Enter Kareem Hunt, the running back from the Kansas City Chiefs, an absurdly gifted player who won the NFL rushing title as a rookie and was a vital part of the most volcanic offense east of Los Angeles. 

A haunting video surfaced of an enraged Hunt engaged in hideous, criminal conduct. Somewhere in the halls of an Ohio hotel we see Hunt hunting after a woman, shoving her to the ground. There's no excuse for that, though maybe he had an explanation.

But Hunt kept charging back, shoving, pushing, assaulting this woman again and again, often muscling his way through other men who tried to protect her from Hunt, or Hunt from himself. There were scenes of Hunt bowling through them to get to her, of both defender and the woman flying to the ground as if hit by a train. 

The exclamation point on this galling script was Hunt scrambling toward the victim one last time, only to kick her as she was crouched on the ground. This after myriad trips to the floor at Hunt's hand, gathering her senses or grabbing her woozy head. 

As is often the case, Hunt took his case to the sports reporters, sitting with ESPN's Lisa Salters -- no doubt after a bunker session with some PR people -- explaining that he's incredibly embarrassed by the video. So he's not ashamed by his actions, but only by the fact that they were filmed. Athletes aren't presidential speechwriters, so perhaps Hunt meant to say the right thing. But nothing he says can justify what he did. 

By then the Chiefs had cut Hunt, not only for his deeds but also for lying to them about that ugly evening. But as with so many cases involving violence against women, the league's lethargy is baffling and inexcusable. And it showed that their actions against Rice were more about looking good than being good.  

If Rice was the proverbial straw, then why did it take the NFL nearly a year to get religion over Hunt? He attacked that woman in February. But, just like the Rice case, the NFL waited until it had no other choice before going DEFCON 4.

The Chiefs employ another player with a history of violence against women -- Tyreek Hill. Like Hunt, Hill is so singularly gifted the team, and the league, would rather just wait to see if they sparkle or stumble. So far, so good on Hill, who has dazzled the media and masses with his otherworldly skills. 

Winning often acts as deodorant for a smelly franchise. But some actions can't be sprayed or massaged or ignored. Which brings us to the larger issue of the NFL's stance on men who hit women. Since the appalling video of Rice and the league reworking its policy on domestic violence, we had another video that was even more troubling. You may recall Joe Mixon literally shattered a woman's face at a restaurant. After some finger pointing and self-righteous posturing, the NFL rolled out the red carpet for Mixon to be drafted by the Bengals.

Mixon is now the team's best runner, a staple of fantasy football teams and wholly forgotten as a hulking man who brutalized a woman.  

Not only is the NFL absurdly behind on such matters, it lives in hypocrisy. The league goes all gangster on players who harmlessly smoke weed in their homes, who prefer the relatively safe -- and largely legal -- use of marijuana rather than get snagged in the web of opioid addiction. We hear way more about drug users than abusers of women. 

Over the last year, we've heard infinitely more about Josh Gordon's troubles than Mixon's crimes. Can the Patriots handle such a talented yet tormented wideout such as Gordon? Will a man who failed drug tests ruin the delicate chemistry of an NFL franchise? 

The questions are comical. Somehow, someone with some trouble with drugs is a plague, yet men who break a woman's cheekbones are fast-tracked to NFL prosperity. For his private troubles with recreational drugs, Gordon was suspended for a year without pay by the NFL. For his public violence against a woman, Mixon was barred from the NFL Combine.  

Nameless, faceless women don't win rushing titles. They don't win Super Bowls. They don't even put fans in seats. Instead, they are an inconvenient to a sport and sports culture that can't see the world above the mounds of testosterone. 

We've often heard that the specter of CTE could ruin the sport of football. At least such a fate would be the result of physical inevitabilities. You can't change the savage realities of large and wildly fast athletes slamming into each other on every play. But the least you can do is keep these men from assaulting women half their size.

Of course, you have to care first before you change it. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.​