By ROB MAADDI
The NFL is still out of its league when it comes to discipline for players with troubles off the field.
Kareem Hunt was the latest example of the NFL’s reactionary approach toward serious matters, despite league efforts to make improvements following its mishandling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence case in 2014.
From Greg Hardy to Mychal Kendricks to Reuben Foster, the NFL has taken different approaches on a case-by-case basis when players misbehave, drawing backlash from fans for what critics view as inconsistency and, at times, pandering to public perception.
Hunt, the former Kansas City running back, was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list Friday after TMZ released a video showing him pushing and kicking a woman during a February scuffle at a Cleveland hotel. The video’s jolt across the sports world accelerated a case that had been effectively put on the backburner for both the club and the league, with Hunt losing his job the same day — a sharp fall for an elite playmaker for one of the most explosive offenses in football.
The Chiefs said Hunt had lied to them about the scuffle, an assertion Hunt acknowledged in an interview with ESPN on Sunday. But authorities never charged Hunt with a crime and the league’s internal investigation — under guidance implemented after the lengthy legal saga involving the former Ravens running back Rice — stalled when NFL officials couldn’t get in touch with the woman.
Hunt said he never saw the video until it was released publicly. And he said the league never asked to speak with him directly.
NFL officials say they tried several times to get video of the confrontation but couldn’t because the hotel said its corporate policy only allowed footage to be given to law enforcement. And Cleveland police say they didn’t pursue the video because it wasn’t a felony case.
Now, the NFL says it will make “further attempts to speak to the complainants involved in the incident,” and have “further conversations with all parties involved.”
Just like it did during the Rice case in 2014, the NFL is changing its reaction amid jarring video prompting new public outcry.
But the league also must conform to the collective bargaining agreement, which gives players certain protections through their union. Still, the agreement grants Commissioner Roger Goodell ultimate authority to issue punishment. That has been a major point of contention for the NFL Players Association and is shaping up to be a major sticking point once the broader agreement expires in 2021.
NFL and NFLPA officials did not respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Hunt cleared waivers on Monday and could sign with another team. He can’t play while he’s on the exempt list, but it’s up to Goodell and league officials to decide when to take him off when — or if — they see fit.
Foster was claimed off waivers by the Washington Redskins last week after the San Francisco 49ers released the linebacker following a domestic violence arrest. Washington faced immediate backlash as the latest example of an organization looking past off-field troubles toward potential on-field production.
In September, linebacker Mychal Kendricks pleaded guilty to securities fraud and conspiracy and was released by the Cleveland Browns. He was quickly signed by the Seattle Seahawks, then suspended for eight games by the NFL for his role in an insider trading scheme. Kendricks faces up to 25 years in prison with sentencing scheduled for next month.
Still, Kendricks was officially reinstated by the NFL on Monday and has been with Seattle the past two weeks. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says team officials “don’t have any hesitation” about playing Kendricks against Minnesota next Monday night.
Hardy was convicted in July 2014 of assaulting and threatening a woman who claimed the 6-foot-4, 275-pound player threw her in a bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her. He appealed the ruling and was allowed to play the first game of the season before the Carolina Panthers placed him on the exempt list. Hardy didn’t play the rest of the season but signed an incentive-laden, $13.1 million deal with the Cowboys and played 12 games in 2015 after serving a four-game suspension. He’s been out of the league the last three years, focusing on a mixed martial arts career with the UFC.