Arguably, nothing has tarnished the reputation of the NFL more than the litany of domestic violence cases it has handled in recent years. And mishandled.
And the problem isn’t going away.
Two years ago, the NFL gave Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice a two-game suspension. His misdemeanour was a significant one — he punched his now-wife Janay Rice in an elevator knocking her unconscious before dragging her limp body out by her shoulders.
The public outcry at this insufficient punishment was such that the NFL was forced to reevaluate its approach to domestic violence. A new code of conduct was rolled out with a set punishment of six games. A process to deal with victims of domestic abuse was established.
This issue came into headlines again in 2015 when 6’4 278 lbs defensive end Greg Hardy was drafted despite violently beating his ex-girlfriend in 2014. Deadspin.com released graphic images of the injuries his victim suffered.
The fact that Rice, Hardy and Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback who allegedly caused his girlfriend to temporarily lose hearing in one ear after punching her, are all unsigned free agents now is at least proof that certain teams are bowing to public pressure.
But the issue arose again after the recent NFL draft. With the 165th overall pick, the Kansas City Chiefs selected West Alabama running back Tyreek Hill. On August 21, 2015, Hill pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation.
The Stillwater Police Department incident report stated Hill got physical during a verbal altercation with his two-month pregnant girlfriend. It reported he punched her in the face and stomach and strangled her twice leaving the victim with a split lip and bruised eye. The victim also complained of stomach pain and reported to the police he had been physical with her before. As a result, the Oklahoma State football and track teams expelled Hill and he moved to West Alabama, a Division II squad, for the 2015 season.
Hill is a talented athlete. He posted a 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine and was 11th nationally in all-purpose yards. He was also voted Offensive Newcomer of the Year by conference coaches. As the draft wore on and teams started to frantically seek a diamond in the rough, Hill was a stirring prospect.
A fundamental tenet of the judicial process is that after serving punishment one should be allowed the opportunity to return to society and resume a career. But a privileged case like this confuses this straightforward theory.
The decision to draft Hill has proved deeply unpopular in Kansas City. Fans flooded to Twitter to vent while local station 610 Sports Radio campaigned to raise funds for Rose Brooks Center, an organisation which assists victims of domestic abuse. They set a goal of $5,000 (€4,376) and within three days were at $12,555 (€10,988).
Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have consistently spoken about having players of high character. Dorsey was forced to meet journalists to attempt some damage limitation amid the growing fan outcry at the move.
“I just want everybody to understand we have done due diligence with regards to full vetting each one of our draft class members,” said Dorsey.
After they won the Baseball World Series last year, the Kansas City Royals were subject to a deeper level of admiration and fanfare.
They respond by doing their best to be role models in every sense of the word. Last month, outfielder Alex Gordon, pitcher Chris Young and catcher Salvador Perez all donated money to the Urban Youth Academy in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, when Hill appeared in front of the media for the Chiefs, he was hardly unequivocally contrite. Referring to his initial response back at Oklahoma he said: “The only thing I did say was, ‘I’m sorry. I messed up. I embarrassed the programme at OSU. I embarrassed the coaches. I embarrassed a lot of people back at home.’ That’s it. That’s how I explained it.”
He also added: “I’m not trying to point any fingers at anybody, but I’ve just got to be better at choosing my friends and who I hang around, stuff like that.”
For his part, area scout Ryne Nutt spoke about Hill’s “world-class speed”. In fairness, coach Reid spoke about the extensive counselling Hill was doing and how he was trying to be a better person.
Either you believe Reid and Dorsey looked at the draft and saw the opportunity to assist in the rehabilitation of Hill, as they have suggested, or they saw that 4.27 and didn’t care about his past.
After the Tom Brady Deflategate scandal, Maura Healy, the attorney general of Massachusetts told the Boston Herald: “My view remains that the NFL spent way too much time and energy and attention on this issue when it had missed the boat for a long time on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. That’s where I would like to see them focus their attention.”
In 2015 alone, six players were arrested for domestic violence. Already this year, the New England Patriots cut Montee Ball four days after it was reported he threw his girlfriend onto a table.
In reality, the case is merely a testament to the soullessness of the NFL, that moral compasses are still interfered with by stopwatches. Hill was offered maximum exposure after the draft yet did not take the time to apologise to his victim. A member of the Chiefs is in the privileged situation of being idealised by children. Does he merit this position?
The fact is, the Chiefs need every advantage available to kick on from their 2015 high of a divisional play-off.
They put the team’s chances ahead of their principles.
Most attention this week has surrounded Miami Dolphins’ pick Laremy Tunsil, who was subjected to a bizarre social media attack when a video of him taking a bong hit in a gas mask was released from his Twitter account 20 minutes before the draft.
Nationally, questions about conduct and character have centred on him, not Hill. When it comes to domestic violence, the NFL still remains unwilling to address their big problem.
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