Hunt in­ci­dent is be­ing com­pared to Ray Rice case

Rice ad­mit­ted his guilt, whereas Hunt de­nied he as­saulted young woman

The Niagara Falls Review - - Sports - WILL HOB­SON

When TMZ pub­lished a video last Fri­day show­ing for­mer Kansas City Chiefs run­ning back Ka­reem Hunt shov­ing and kick­ing a woman in a Cleve­land ho­tel months be­fore, it ini­ti­ated a wave of pub­lic crit­i­cism of the Na­tional Foot­ball League, much of it in­vok­ing the Ray Rice do­mes­tic vi­o­lence scan­dal from 2014.

While there are ob­vi­ous par­al­lels be­tween the two cases — in both, TMZ ob­tained and re­leased the cru­cial videos ig­nit­ing the con­tro­ver­sies — there are also fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences that some le­gal ex­perts say demon­strate the chal­lenges fac­ing the NFL as it tries to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing against its play­ers with­out the le­gal pow­ers of law en­force­ment, or an in­ter­est in adopt­ing the so-called “cheque­book jour­nal­ism” tac­tics of TMZ.

“I don’t know why we would want pro­fes­sional sports leagues to act like TMZ,” said Gabe Feld­man, law pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the sports law pro­gram at Tu­lane Law School. “I think the more dif­fi­cult ques­tion is why are these cases not pros­e­cuted by law en­force­ment. I think it’s un­fair to hold pro­fes­sional sports leagues to a higher stan­dard than our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, and to ex­pect pro­fes­sional sports leagues to do a bet­ter job in­ves­ti­gat­ing them than law en­force­ment.”

In the Rice case, there was no dis­pute over the then Bal­ti­more Ravens run­ning back’s guilt — he ad­mit­ted he had punched his then-fi­ancée and knocked her un­con­scious in­side the el­e­va­tor of an At­lantic City ho­tel in Fe­bru­ary 2014 — and the NFL made no ef­fort to ob­tain the video of the at­tack from law en­force­ment. Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell then waited five months af­ter the in­ci­dent to pun­ish Rice with a two-game sus­pen­sion that was crit­i­cized as out­ra­geously mild when TMZ re­leased the video of the at­tack.

Hunt, on the other hand, de­nied he had as­saulted a 19-year-old woman out­side his Cleve­land ho­tel room in Fe­bru­ary. The NFL tried to get the se­cu­rity video from Cleve­land po­lice, but the agency didn’t have it be­cause of­fi­cers never re­quested it be­fore de­cid­ing not to file charges against Hunt. The NFL also tried to get the video di­rectly from the ho­tel, Metropoli­tan at the 9, but ho­tel man­age­ment re­fused, the league has said. A spokesper­son for the ho­tel has not replied to mes­sages seek­ing com­ment.

Some vic­tims’ ad­vo­cates have said Cleve­land po­lice are just as de­serv­ing of blame, if not more so, as the NFL for fail­ing to han­dle the Hunt case prop­erly. A 911 caller and the woman Hunt as­saulted both im­plored po­lice of­fi­cers to re­view the ho­tel se­cu­rity footage that night, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cer body cam videos and 911 calls re­leased last week, but of­fi­cers never did. On Wed­nes­day, Cleve­land po­lice an­nounced it had opened an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how its of­fi­cers han­dled the in­ci­dent.

“This is ap­palling ... It was a huge fail­ure on the part of law en­force­ment,” said Toni Van Pelt, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women.

Van Pelt is among those who have sug­gested the NFL should re­sort to pay­ing for ev­i­dence in cer­tain cases, which is pre­sum­ably how TMZ ob­tained the Hunt video. Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 New Yorker ar­ti­cle, TMZ paid some­one, likely a ho­tel em­ployee, nearly US$90,000 for the Rice video. TMZ did not re­ply to a re­quest to com­ment.

Some le­gal ex­perts, how­ever, cau­tioned against the NFL set­ting the prece­dent of pay­ing for ev­i­dence in in­ves­ti­ga­tions of its play­ers.

“There’s noth­ing purely il­le­gal about pay­ing for ev­i­dence, but it’ll be at­tacked by the union, it’ll be at­tacked by lawyers for the play­ers ... and I don’t think it’ll play well in the court of pub­lic opin­ion, which is re­ally what the NFL cares about here,” said Mark Con­rad, di­rec­tor of the sports busi­ness pro­gram at Ford­ham Univer­sity’s Ga­belli School of Busi­ness.

Ex­perts could re­call only one ex­am­ple of a pro­fes­sional sports league pay­ing for ev­i­dence: Ma­jor League Base­ball, dur­ing its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Bio­gen­e­sis, a Florida anti-ag­ing clinic that sup­plied sev­eral play­ers with banned sub­stances. MLB paid a for­mer Bio­gen­e­sis em­ployee US$125,000 for doc­u­ments pur­port­edly show­ing which play­ers took which sub­stances. Lawyers for the play­ers — most promi­nently, Alex Ro­driguez — pub­licly as­sailed the league for mak­ing the pay­ment, which was among sev­eral is­sues the sides bat­tled in court over for years.

An MLB spokesper­son did not re­ply to a re­quest to com­ment. There have been no pub­lic in­di­ca­tions since the Bio­gen­e­sis scan­dal of MLB pay­ing for ev­i­dence in other in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and it’s widely as­sumed the league has aban­doned the prac­tice.

Feld­man agreed with crit­i­cism of the NFL for not in­ter­view­ing Hunt af­ter the Fe­bru­ary in­ci­dent, but noted that, with­out the video, there’s no guar­an­tee NFL of­fi­cials would have been able to get Hunt to ad­mit to as­sault­ing the woman. Hunt has ac­knowl­edged he lied to the Chiefs about his ac­tions that night, and the Chiefs re­leased him hours af­ter TMZ pub­lished the video last Fri­day.

“If law en­force­ment doesn’t have the video, and the ho­tel refuses to pro­vide it, I think there’s a ques­tion of what else the league can re­ally do,” Feld­man said. “This is a tricky sit­u­a­tion, both legally and eth­i­cally ... and I think the league is go­ing to get crit­i­cized, re­gard­less of what they do.”

JA­SON DECROW THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ray Rice ar­rives with wife, Janay Palmer, out­side court in 2014.

JA­SON HANNA GETTY IM­AGES

Ka­reem Hunt

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