SALT LAKE CITY — NFL players are back in the news again for delivering hard hits — on women.
The Kansas City Chiefs released star running back Kareem Hunt for shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel, and the NFL immediately placed him on the commissioner’s exempt list, meaning he is suspended.
The hotel incident occurred last February and the Chiefs knew about it, but there were no repercussions until videotape of the assault was made public à la Ray Rice. In such matters, league officials tend to act like coaches when asked about a play immediately after the game: I’m gonna have to see the video first.
Only days earlier the San Francisco 49ers released linebacker Reuben Foster, who was arrested for domestic violence for slapping a woman at the team hotel — his second arrest for domestic violence in nine months.
If the hope was that things would change in the NFL after the Ray Rice affair in 2014, it was false. Since the Rice disaster in February 2014, there have been 26 instances of NFL players being arrested for domestic violence, according to the USA Today database that tracks NFL player arrests.
The 2017 NFL draft included at least six players who had been accused of violence against women, including rape and assault. The most publicized involved the Bengals’ Joe Mixon, who punched a woman so hard she was knocked unconscious and broke four bones in her face — all caught on videotape.
The day after Foster was released by the 49ers for the hotel incident, he was signed by the Washington Redskins (but suspended by the league). Predictably, that set off a firestorm of protest. Doug Williams, the Redskins senior vice president, threw gas on the fire by saying that plenty of people “have done far worse,” than what Foster had done. He had to apologize for that one.
The NFL is still impolitic, ignorant and clumsy when dealing with domestic violence and violence against women (they’re not the same thing). Remember, Commissioner Roger Goodell originally gave Rice a slap on the wrist until the videotape turned up. The NFL doesn’t act on ethics or common sense, only on what’s politically expedient, and Rice’s original two-game suspension turned into an indefinite suspension once the video hit the internet. Rice has never played again.
The league appears to suffer from an epidemic of violence against women, but that’s only because it receives so much publicity. In 2014, FiveThirtyEight studied data since 2000 and concluded that NFL players actually commit domestic violence at a rate lower than the general population.
But as columnist and law professor Stephen L. Carter wrote, “ … we live in an era when over two-thirds of those surveyed believe that the league has a serious domestic violence problem. The figures are the same for fans and non-fans. When that large a swath of the public believes you have a problem, you have a problem.”
As Carter also notes, most employers pass on job applicants — even very talented ones — if they’re facing domestic violence charges; the NFL not only hires them, but does so in a very public way.
In response to those who argue that guilty players still have a right to earn a living, Carter agrees to a point, writing, “But I daresay that he does not necessarily have a right to earn a living as a professional athlete. There is something to be said for the old-fashioned notion that those who are in the public eye bear a public responsibility to conduct themselves in ways that others might emulate.
"When he does otherwise, there ought to be a penalty. Here I refer not simply to the penalty exacted by law, but to the penalty exacted by the profession itself. A male lawyer or doctor who punched a woman so hard that she required surgery would most likely face, at minimum, a suspension of his license.”
The problem of violence against women is bigger than the NFL. The league is paying for societal ills and the high incidence of domestic violence in black America. According to the Women of Color Network, an estimated 29.1 percent of black females are victimized by intimate partner violence (rape, physical assault, stalking). Black women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white females and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races.
This becomes a vicious circle. According to theOffice on Women's Health, “more than 15 million children in the United States live in homes in which domestic violence has happened at least once. These children are at greater risk for repeating the cycle as adults by entering into abusive relationships or becoming abusers themselves … a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult.”
Of the 26 aforementioned cases of violence against women and/or domestic violence by NFL players, all but three involved blacks.4 comments on this story
Michelle Taylor, aka Feminista Jones, a black social worker and writer, wrote in Time Magazine after the Ray Rice assault: “Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV (domestic violence, intimate partner violence) than white women. And while black women only make up 8 percent of the population, 22 percent of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to black women and 29 percent of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for black women ages 15 to 35. Statistically, we experience sexual assault and DV/IPV at disproportionate rates and have the highest rates of intra-racial violence against us than any other group.”
All these numbers might be conservative because, as Taylor notes, “We are also less likely to report or seek help when we are victimized.”
The NFL now finds itself in the middle of a hot mess that extends well beyond the league.