Hunt, Fos­ter con­jure dark NFL flash­backs

League has fa­mil­iar cri­sis fol­low­ing more in­ci­dents of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence

The Washington Post Sunday - - NFL WEEK 13 - BY MARK MASKE [email protected]­post.com

The NFL and Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell vowed in 2014, while un­der fire for their han­dling of high-pro­file do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases, that they would never re­peat their mis­takes. Good­ell and team own­ers bol­stered the league’s per­sonal con­duct pol­icy, par­tic­u­larly as it re­lated to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and said they had learned their lessons.

For the NFL, the events of the past week have been an un­wel­come re­minder of that 2014 cri­sis. Then, the league ad­mit­ted mis­steps in han­dling a case in­volv­ing run­ning back Ray Rice, which was fol­lowed by cases in­volv­ing run­ning back Adrian Peter­son and de­fen­sive end Greg Hardy.

Now, just when the league was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­ju­ve­nat­ing season — with com­pelling play, soar­ing in­ter­est and tele­vi­sion rat­ings, and com­par­a­tively lit­tle con­tro­versy — those 2014 tribu­la­tions were re­vis­ited.

On Tues­day, the NFL placed line­backer Reuben Fos­ter on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave via the com­mis­sioner’s ex­empt list. He had just been claimed by the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins off waivers, prompt­ing an out­cry, af­ter be­ing re­leased by the San Fran­cisco 49ers fol­low­ing his ar­rest last week­end in Tampa on a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence charge.

On Fri­day, the Kansas City Chiefs cut ties with stand­out run­ning back Ka­reem Hunt, the league’s fifth-lead­ing rusher, just af­ter the NFL placed him on paid leave. Both ac­tions came hours af­ter TMZ re­leased video from a Fe­bru­ary in­ci­dent in a Cleve­land ho­tel that showed Hunt shov­ing and kick­ing a woman. Hunt was not charged with a crime in the in­ci­dent, which had been pre­vi­ously re­ported.

It re­mains to be seen whether how the NFL han­dles the Hunt and Fos­ter cases will spark outrage among fans and lead any to turn away from the games. For now, those in and around the league must be­gin eval­u­at­ing whether the NFL and its teams learned from the past and han­dled th­ese cases ap­pro­pri­ately.

“It’s too early to know the de­tails of the un­der­ly­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” said Gabe Feld­man, di­rec­tor of the sports law pro­gram at Tu­lane Univer­sity. “What we’re see­ing is an­other ex­am­ple of how dif­fi­cult it is to pros­e­cute cases of vi­o­lence against women. That’s not an NFL prob­lem. It’s not a sports prob­lem. It’s a so­ci­etal prob­lem.”

For now, there is no known ev­i­dence that the NFL mis­han­dled th­ese cases in the way that it ad­mit­tedly did so with the Rice case, Feld­man said.

“It’s the ques­tion of: Did the league do its due dili­gence suf­fi­ciently in its un­der­ly­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion?” Feld­man said Satur­day. “Both the team and the league acted quickly [in the Hunt case] once the video came out. Be­fore the video came out, they hadn’t done any­thing. It’s hard to cast blame on the league at this point. It is plau­si­ble that they were un­able to find ev­i­dence to sus­pend Hunt.”

A high-rank­ing of­fi­cial with one team ex­pressed sup­port for the league’s ac­tions.

“Both play­ers were placed on leave,” said the of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the topic. “What the Red­skins did [by adding Fos­ter], that’s a team de­ci­sion. The league has no con­trol over that. I don’t know what more could have been done any ear­lier in the [Hunt] case. The league said they tried to get the video but couldn’t.”

Other ob­servers were more crit­i­cal.

“The events of the last week make crys­tal clear the NFL still has a huge prob­lem with do­mes­tic abuse that they are do­ing lit­tle to noth­ing to prop­erly ad­dress,” Shaunna Thomas, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of women’s ad­vo­cacy group Ul­traVi­o­let, said in a writ­ten state­ment to The Post. “Once again, the league failed to take ac­tion at the proper time and only waited un­til video leaked to take ac­tion. The NFL treats do­mes­tic abuse by its play­ers as a PR prob­lem, not a sys­temic prob­lem through­out the league that they have failed to ad­dress.”

The NFL said it had been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent in­volv­ing Hunt since Fe­bru­ary. Ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the league’s ef­forts, the ho­tel and le­gal au­thor­i­ties de­nied the NFL’s re­quests to see the sur­veil­lance video, and women in­volved in the in­ci­dent did not re­spond to re­quests to be in­ter­viewed by league in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

When the NFL placed Hunt on the ex­empt list, it cited the “new in­for­ma­tion that was made pub­lic” Fri­day. The Chiefs said they re­leased Hunt be­cause he had not been truth­ful in con­ver­sa­tions with the team’s man­age­ment about the in­ci­dent, based on what the video showed.

The re­lease of the video in the Hunt case was rem­i­nis­cent of the 2014 re­lease, also by TMZ, of video show­ing Rice strik­ing a woman, then his fi­ancee and now his wife, in a ho­tel el­e­va­tor in At­lantic City. That prompted the NFL to sus­pend Rice in­def­i­nitely af­ter orig­i­nally sus­pend­ing him for only two games, and the Bal­ti­more Ravens to re­lease him. The league’s in­def­i­nite sus­pen­sion later was over­turned on ap­peal, but Rice has not played in the NFL since. Good­ell called the orig­i­nal two-game sus­pen­sion er­ro­neous.

In the Rice case, there was a re­port that a law en­force­ment of­fi­cial sent the video of the in­ci­dent to an NFL of­fi­cial be­fore it be­came pub­lic. The NFL de­nied see­ing the video be­fore it was re­leased by TMZ. A re­port by for­mer FBI di­rec­tor Robert S. Mueller III re­leased in Jan­uary 2015 con­cluded there was no ev­i­dence that the league saw the video be­fore it be­came pub­lic but that the NFL “should have done more with the in­for­ma­tion it had, and should have taken ad­di­tional steps to ob­tain all avail­able in­for­ma­tion” about the in­ci­dent.

The NFL tough­ened its pun­ish­ments for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in 2014, set­ting a six-game sus­pen­sion with­out pay as the base­line dis­ci­pline. It also said it would con­duct its own in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions when a player or an­other em­ployee is ac­cused of mis­con­duct. But the NFL ac­knowl­edged at the time that such in­ves­ti­ga­tions are prob­lem­atic. That was ev­i­dent again in the NFL’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Hunt.

“The video is damn­ing,” Feld­man said. “It is prob­lem­atic that TMZ was able to ob­tain the video. But there were no charges. The NFL has beefed up its in­ves­tiga­tive arm, but that re­mains dif­fi­cult.”

Much re­mains to play out. The NFL must de­cide on pos­si­ble sus­pen­sions for Hunt and Fos­ter. The NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion must de­cide whether to chal­lenge any dis­ci­plinary mea­sures. Teams must de­cide whether to give Hunt a chance to re­sume his ca­reer.

In the mean­time, the league finds it­self in the too-fa­mil­iar position of be­ing en­gulfed in con­tro­versy, the in­ten­sity of which will be­come more clear in the com­ing weeks.

“You’d like to hope you can avoid th­ese things,” the team of­fi­cial said. “But peo­ple make mis­takes and do bad things, play­ers in­cluded. You deal with them the best you can, and you hope that’s good enough.”

CHAR­LIE RIEDEL/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ka­reem Hunt was re­leased by the Chiefs af­ter be­com­ing the sec­ond player this past week to land on the com­mis­sioner’s ex­empt list.

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