Jerry Jones was ahead of his time, again.
The Cowboys owner argued during an owners-only meeting in March 2017 that the league should get out of the business of investigating player misconduct. Mark Maske of the Washington Post reports that some owners are now questioning the league’s investigative practices in the aftermath of the Kareem Hunt case, including the question of whether the NFL should even be engaging in investigations.
“It’s certainly an issue that needs discussion,” an unnamed person with “knowledge of those owners’ views” told Maske. “Is there a way to do this better? If not, should the NFL even be in the investigative business?”
Such an approach would reset the clock to the pre-Ray Rice days, forcing the NFL to rely on the outcomes generated by the criminal justice system, outcomes that vary widely based on a variety of factors, given the broad discretion prosecutors enjoy. In jurisdictions where police are inclined to look the other way as a favor to the local NFL team or hometown athlete, a commitment to accept whatever happens in court could result in nothing happening at all, within the confines of the league office.
Still, the NFL has proven time and again that it lacks the skill and the resources to do the job properly, with the Hunt case being perhaps the most vivid example of the ineffectiveness of the league when it comes to getting all of the evidence needed in order to determine what precisely occurred. Indeed, it could be argued that the NFL didn’t really want to get the evidence in Hunt’s case, because it would have forced the NFL to create its own P.R. mess by imposing a significant suspension on Hunt and then releasing, in the face of a media outcry, the evidence supporting the sanction.
It also could be argued that the NFL decided to simply check the boxes (“we asked the hotel, and we asked the Cleveland Police Department for the video”) and then accepted the risk that TMZ eventually would get the video. That worst-case scenario would match the best-case scenario if the NFL had found the video on its own and published it, in order to support a suspension that would have prompted some (like me) to say, “How can you impose such a stiff punishment on a guy who never was even arrested?”
And so, as the league struggles to find a middle ground between the Ray Rice and Ezekiel Elliott cases, the league could retreat to the days before Rice, opting only to act when forced to do so by the fact that a player was found to be responsible for criminal misconduct by the criminal justice system, recognizing that the criminal justice system has plenty of imperfections — but perhaps not nearly as many as those demonstrated by the league’s own efforts to investigate crimes.