Kareem Hunt apologized to the world, the Kansas City Chiefs organization, his family and his close friends before he finally got around to apologizing to the young woman he shoved and kicked in February — more than seven minutes into Sunday’s interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters. But just as telling about the assault that ultimately cost Hunt his job was his confirmation that the league had never interviewed him about it.
When it comes to the NFL and violence against women, the question clearly isn’t, “What did they know and when did they know it?”
It’s more like, “What did they want to know and when did they decide they had no choice but to know more?”
Hunt talked to the Chiefs after the assault outside his Cleveland hotel residence, and the Chiefs then talked to the league, and then Hunt was free to play 11 games and to help his team emerge as a Super Bowl contender. NFL officials accepted a version of events first supplied by a star running back invested in protecting his career, and then passed along by a team invested in keeping said difference-maker on the field, as part of yet another investigation and decision exposed as disturbing, revealing and woefully inadequate by a video aired on TMZ.
“It should surprise me, but it doesn’t,” said Kathy Redmond, who founded the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes more than 20 years ago. “These are non-investigations. It goes back to willful ignorance, and arrogance and hubris on the part of the NFL. It feels like everything the NFL does is on the surface, and to address PR and the brand they have to protect.”
Yes, the NFL says it did try (and fail) to obtain the video from Cleveland police and the hotel, and did try (and fail) to interview the victim it described in a Sunday statement as a “complainant.” That statement said the league’s “ongoing” investigation will include more attempts to interview “the complainants involved in the incident. It will include a review of the new information that was made public on Friday — which was not available to the NFL previously — as well as further conversations with all parties involved in the incident.”
Those “further conversations” are sure to involve Hunt, who, of course, didn’t have an initial conversation with league investigators. Though the NFL did go hard after Ezekiel Elliott on domestic violence allegations and did hit the Dallas running back last year with a six-game suspension, the absence of a relentless investigation of Hunt shouldn’t come as any shock.
This is from Robert Mueller’s report on the NFL’s botched investigation into Ray Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée inside an elevator at the Revel, an Atlantic City casino:
“Our investigation identified a number of investigative steps that the League did not take to acquire additional information about what occurred inside the elevator. League investigators did not contact any of the police officers who investigated the incident, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, or the Revel to attempt to obtain or view the in-elevator video or to obtain other information. No one from the League asked Rice or his lawyer whether they would make available for viewing the in-elevator video they received as part of criminal discovery in early April. And, after the initial contacts with the Ravens in the immediate aftermath of the incident, League investigators did not follow up with the Ravens to determine whether the team had additional information.”
That report was dated Jan. 8, 2015. Nearly four years later, with Mueller a bit tied up at the moment, it sure would be interesting to see what an independent review of the Hunt “investigation” would turn up.
Understand this: By making multiple attempts to speak with witnesses and to secure the video from hotel officials and law enforcement — even after Cleveland police decided they wouldn’t file charges against Hunt — the league believes it has been more aggressive in the Hunt case than it was in the Rice case, a low standard indeed. An NFL spokesman declined comment when emailed this question: “Why didn’t the league interview Kareem Hunt after the alleged assault?” A person with knowledge of the case said investigators always prefer to speak with the victim of an alleged crime before they speak with the alleged perpetrator, and that the woman’s refusal to respond to the league’s requests for an interview scuttled the plan to interview Hunt.
No, that explanation isn’t nearly good enough, especially since Hunt was accused of punching a man in June. And even after Hunt lied to the Chiefs about the February incident, the NFL should’ve seen a relatively easy path to the principal facts.
Over the years the league has employed former police officers, federal agents and prosecutors with decades of experience. In the wake of the Rice case, commissioner Roger Goodell hired Lisa Friel, the former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex crimes unit. These are people who have contacts all over creation and who know how to acquire information — on the record and off — from all kinds of sources. So even when a police department or hotel refuses to turn over a video showing a man being violent with a woman, seasoned investigators have ways of discovering the critical contents of that video. The questions to ask are obvious:
How bad does it look? Does he make physical contact with her? What kind of physical contact? Is this a man who needs to be punished?
One private investigator with more than four decades of experience, including cases involving athletes, said Sunday that it is “preposterous” to think a company as powerful as the NFL couldn’t discover more about the Hunt video and his actions that night. The league appears far too willing to accept “no” as an answer in matters that demand an unyielding pursuit of the facts. Two years ago, after the NFL claimed the King County (Washington) sheriff’s office refused to provide information on Giants kicker Josh Brown’s abuse of his wife, the sheriff told Seattle radio station KIRO-FM that the league never formally requested the records, and that even if he couldn’t release the records, he would’ve been helpful to an investigator who properly identified his or her affiliation, “since it’s the NFL.”
If any law enforcement officials were helpful to the NFL in the Hunt case, apparently they weren’t helpful enough. As soon as the video aired Friday, the Chiefs knew they had to release Hunt. Of course, they waited until the running back was placed on Goodell’s exempt list, ensuring that he wouldn’t score a few touchdowns against them as a member of somebody else’s team.
“I want to give the Chiefs a bit of credit, because they didn’t technically have to cut him,” Redmond said. “But that delay in releasing him says what we’ve known for years — that winning is always the most important thing.”
Redmond reminded that Saturday was the sixth anniversary of the death of Kasandra Perkins, who was slain by the Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher before the linebacker took his own life. Redmond also reminded that the Chiefs declared where they really stood on domestic violence in 2016, when they drafted Tyreek Hill, who had pleaded guilty in 2015 to punching and strangling his pregnant girlfriend while he attended Oklahoma State.
Sam Ponder says Kareem Hunt’s claim that his actions don’t truly reflect the kind of person he is should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Had the Chiefs drawn a hard line with Hunt in February, or when they drafted Tyreek Hill,” Redmond said, “maybe we’re not here in this situation now. But when you keep pushing the problem away, and you keep kicking the can down the road, this is what you’re going to end up with.”
Redmond has consulted Division I college programs, Major League Baseball teams and the New England Patriots, who invited her a couple of years ago to address incoming rookies. But it seems the problems and the cases continue to repeat themselves. It’s disheartening, she said, when Hunt is added to an ever-growing roster of NFL players accused of abuse while the band simply plays on.
“Fans are culpable in this as well,” she said. “If they wanted something different, they’d demand it. But we move on, and the NFL likes that we do, because the games provide an escape. We can’t escape anymore. We have to confront this.”
So, finally, does Roger Goodell and his $14 billion industry. The NFL has to start seeking the truth. Not the most benign and convenient truth.
Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys OL, missing first game ever
Martin, an Indianapolis native, will be out for the Cowboys’ road game against the Indianapolis Colts in what will be his first missed game at any level — high school, at Notre Dame or in the NFL.
He will be replaced in the starting lineup by Connor Williams.
Martin suffered the knee injury last Sunday against the Eagles and doctors determined that he did not need surgery, but he does need rest to return later this season. Martin wanted to try to play, especially in Indianapolis, where he is from. But the Cowboys are taking the smart approach and now Martin will do something he never has before.
Martin played every game at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, then every game at Notre Dame, then every game with the Cowboys. But when Martin hobbled off the field last Sunday, it meant that he would not get to play in his hometown.
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Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph defends kicking field goal on fourth-and-1 vs. Cleveland Browns — ‘I wanted points there’
DENVER — The Denver Broncos went with math over a gut feel Saturday night, and many of their faithful left the 17-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns talking about a fourth-and-1 on which the team didn’t go for it in the closing minutes as the Broncos dropped to 6-8 and the brink of postseason elimination.
With 4 minutes, 39 seconds remaining, trailing 17-13 and with a fourth-and-1 on the Cleveland 6-yard line, Broncos coach Vance Joseph sent kicker Brandon McManus out for a field goal as boos cascaded down from the stands.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph said. “Had about 4:35 to go in the game. We had one timeout and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there, OK. If we don’t get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision — take points.”
McManus made the 29-yard field goal — after a delay of game penalty — and the Broncos did get the ball back after their defense stopped the Browns deep in Denver territory, but the Broncos couldn’t move the ball past the 50-yard line to kick a game winner.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said he was confident that the Broncos could have converted the fourth-and-1, but he added that he was angry he didn’t get the offense in position for the game winner after the team got the ball back.
“Yes, I felt confident [we would have converted the fourth down],” Keenum said. “I wanted to convert third down. That’s what I wanted to do. [Joseph] felt like the defense would get a stop, and [we would] get the ball back, and they did. They got a stop, and we got the ball back. I can’t complain. I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Joseph said “absolutely” the Broncos’ back-to-back runs for just 2 yards and no gain on the two plays before the field goal influenced the decision.
“Absolutely, the third-down play didn’t look great, and we had points,” Joseph said. “Again, I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive, and we did … hoping we get a stop there and get the ball back.”
While the Broncos’ defense held on a Browns fourth-down play on the next Cleveland possession, that stand came at Denver’s 13-yard line after Browns running back Nick Chubb gained 53 yards on six carries on the drive. That included a 40-yard run on the first play of Cleveland’s drive.
“That last drive, what was it: 75 yards rushing?” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “We can’t allow that.”
In five plays, the Broncos were able to go from their own 13-yard line to earn a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 52 seconds to play. Joseph said he believed the Broncos needed to get to the Cleveland 42-yard line, at minimum, for McManus to have a chance at a game winner.
Keenum spiked the ball on first down and threw two incompletions to give the Broncos a fourth-and-10 from the 50. Keenum took a low snap in the shotgun and was swarmed under by the Browns’ rush for a sack to end the Broncos’ chances.
“I’m still pretty emotional about it,” Keenum said. “Man, that’s what I dream about. Man, that’s what I want. I want the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game … to get that close, it pisses me off … Lot of anger at myself. There’s some plays I could make that I didn’t.”
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