Video changes everything for the NFL, again

Getty Images

Four years ago, Ray Rice received a two-game suspension for knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator. And then video of Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator emerged. And Rice has never played again.

While the ultimate fate of Kareem Hunt remains unknown, it’s already clear that the NFL will be using a familiar page from the Personal Conduct Policy playbook when it comes to the latest example of a player being caught on video committing violence against a female: Hunt will pay a steep price for the simple fact that everyone has now seen what he did months ago.

Before Friday, the February incident had been a blip on the radar screen, with allegations emerging at the time and a couple of questions being posed to Kareem Hunt (and team owner Clark Hunt) by reporters during training camp. The NFL had said, and had leaked, nothing about the investigation. There had been no indication that the league had met with Hunt on the matter, or that the league had even interviewed the alleged victim, who clearly was looking for some type of justice. (Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league contends that the alleged victim did not respond to multiple messages left for her.)

There likewise had been little said or done about a June incident during which Hunt allegedly punched a man. While publicly known, the league had said or done nothing to make it clear that Hunt was facing discipline for the incident. (TMZ had a report on the incident at the time, but it has released no video. Yet.)

Now, less than two days after video of the February incident emerged, the NFL is mobilizing, leaking the notion that Hunt could get more than the baseline six games for an incident of off-field violence in February because there was a second alleged incident of off-field violence in June. While Hunt fully deserves scrutiny and punishment, it’s fair to wonder whether he would have been suspended even for one game if TMZ hadn’t purchased and played the February video.

As explained on Saturday, the league may have overcorrected after the Ezekiel Elliott situation, searching for a middle ground between Rice and Elliott that responds to off-field behavioral issues only when  a response is unavoidable. The recent focus-on-football approach, apparently championed by new P.R. executive Jocelyn Moore, compels discretion and silence when it comes to player misconduct, so that attention to all the points being scored on the field won’t be undermined or diluted by stories about players getting in trouble off the field.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones aggressively argued in connection with the Elliott case that the league should get out of the business of doing what the criminal justice system hasn’t done. In Hunt’s case, it’s entirely possible that, in the absence of an arrest, criminal charges, a civil lawsuit, or any type of media focus on the two incidents, the league decided that the best approach was to do nothing, until it had no choice but to do something.

Now that it has no choice but to do something, the league may be doing everything. And it’s making sure that everyone realizes that, when Hunt eventually receives an extensive suspension, it will be not just because of the February incident but because of a June incident that possibly would have continued to remain largely under the rug.

None of this should be surprising. The league’s insistence on policing the behavior of players during the many hours, days, weeks, and months when they’re not playing or practicing football comes directly from the P.R. damage that comes from tales of NFL players getting in trouble. So when it’s obvious that players have gotten in trouble, it’s important to act. What the NFL seems to be realizing post-Elliott is that, from a P.R. standpoint, the better outcome may be to do nothing to make it obvious that a player has gotten in trouble. If/when TMZ publishes a video that pulls into public view things the NFL privately knew or should have known about, the league can and will mobilize aggressively against someone the league arguably should have already mobilized against.

That won’t prevent questions from being asked about what the league knew and when the league knew it. But with so much of the attention falling to the player who got himself into trouble, fair and pointed questions about whether the NFL had the video or should have gotten the video or should have taken more aggressive action before the video emerged can more easily be avoided.

In the end, it may not be a perfect balance, but the league possibly has concluded that it’s a far better balance than creating its own bad P.R. by making a big deal out of something that no one else seems to care about.

4 responses to “Video changes everything for the NFL, again

  1. The commissioner is paid tens of millions. Presumably the other league office staff get paid six-figure salaries. Yet they constantly commit negligent incompetent moves, this one only being the most recent. How many of us would keep our jobs, even at the much lower salaries most of us earn, with a constant stream of screwups? It’s ridiculous.

  2. Video changes everything. That is NOT the NFL’s fault. It is OUR fault. The masses need visual depictions for emotionally laden responses. Hearing a man hit a woman is far less impactful than actually SEEING a man hit a woman. Even if the description is worse than the video, the video will generate more of a response. So, the NFL just waits until the video emerges before springing to action. It is all about optics, just like politics is now. People lack the ability or will to think critically if information goes against their established beliefs or biases. Society has morphed into a shallow version of situational justice based on their personal perceptions rather than facts. The NFL’s actions lack integrity but that is at least partly because way too many of us couldn’t care less about integrity until it impacts something we like.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.