The period after the Super Bowl and before training camp begins in July typically means a lull in the NFL’s news cycle. Yes, there is some buzz over free agency and the annual draft (something that even the NFL has managed to make into a spectacle as it’s set to debut on ABC this April), but the headlines through the spring are usually about March Madness, the beginning of baseball season and the NBA playoffs. That hasn’t been the case recently, however.
Within the past few weeks, there have been multiple instances of controversy among prominent NFL figures, from New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft being accused of soliciting prostitutes to the ongoing investigation into an alleged child abuse case at the home of Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The league also announced an eight-game suspension of newly signed Cleveland Browns’ running back Kareem Hunt for violating the league’s personal conduct policy after a newly-surfaced video showed him pushing and kicking a woman. Between a league owner that should have been swiftly punished, a player whose prior transgressions were forgotten and someone who may not have deserved a second chance, the hypocrisy of the NFL is quite easy to see.
I’ll start with Kraft. There’s no denying his accomplishments: in 25 years as owner of the Patriots, he’s built the most successful franchise in the history of football with 10 Super Bowl appearances and six titles under his watch. I’ll admit that as a Jets fan, I love to hate on the Patriots, especially with some of their previous suspicious acts (Spygate and Deflategate). However, even I have to respect how Kraft has built this team into one of the most valuable in the NFL and with it, become arguably the most powerful person outside of commissioner Roger Goodell – which is why it’s a shame that Goodell missed out on this great opportunity to show the world that everyone should be responsible for their behavior and no one is invincible.
About a month ago, news broke that Kraft was one of 25 people who had been charged with solicitation of prostitution, punishable by up to a year in jail. Kraft had allegedly gone to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa the morning of the Patriots’ AFC title win. While Kraft has unsurprisingly denied all charges and assembled an excellent legal team to protect him, the evidence surrounding the case seems overwhelming. Seriously, look up the details about the treatment of the workers, it’s rather sickening. Owners are typically held to a high standard in the NFL. Previous examples of drug charges and sexual misconduct led to significant suspensions and fines of at least $500,000. If an NFL player had done this, there’s no doubt that the NFL would have thrown the book at him and levied a lengthy suspension.
The second piece of news was that the Chiefs’ best receiver, Tyreek Hill, was listed in one of two suspected child abuse cases occurring at his home over the past two weeks (the Chiefs are coincidentally the team that the Patriots faced in the AFC Championship). Hill has had an ugly history of off-the-field issues since college, when he was dismissed from the Oklahoma State football team for punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend. He pleaded guilty, received probation and an anger management course amongst other light duties and was picked in the fifth round of the NFL draft just one year later. Having made three consecutive Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, he seemed to have turned his life around and was reportedly negotiating a contract that would have made him the highest-paid player in the NFL at his position. The team is working with authorities to get more information about the case, but if Hill is found to be involved, he should not ever set foot on a field again; wwhe was given a second chance and he didn’t change his despicable ways.
Finally, Hill’s former teammate Kareem Hunt was hit with an eight-game suspension for not abiding by the league’s conduct policy. Hunt was key to the Chiefs’ dynamic offense for his first two seasons in the league. He was suddenly released in late November after a TMZ video showed him hitting and kicking a woman outside of his hotel room, with the Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt implying that Kareem wasn’t honest with the team about the extent of the altercation. The NFL launched its own investigation, but the Cleveland Browns signed Hunt to a one-year contract before the findings were released.
The NFL finally announced an eight-game suspension for Hunt just last week, two more than the standard six games for violating the policy. While Hunt was quick to accept the punishment, I believe the sentence was too lenient. The NFL had a chance to really send a message about how they don’t condone violence against women, something that has been a major problem in recent years for the beleaguered league. A year-long suspension seems like a fair starting point, but one more piece of news made the NFL’s shortcomings all the more obvious.
The same day the Hunt suspension was announced, the Dolphins traded away their starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Later that afternoon, a report emerged saying that free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick was interested in the Dolphins’ job despite not having played a down in the NFL for two full seasons. At age 31, Kaepernick should be in his prime as a quarterback. Instead, he is sitting on his couch and hoping for another opportunity to play because he protested injustices in the U.S. by kneeling during the national anthem. With rich owners buying prostitutes, wide receivers strangling their pregnant wives, and running backs attacking random women all receiving second (and possibly third) chances before Kaepernick, one thing is clear: the NFL’s image problem isn’t going away until everyone in the league is held to the same standard.