Four years later, two disasters.
And just when the league — primed for an exciting stretch run to the Super Bowl with the exploding scoreboards it prefers — had seemingly recovered from several of the “non-football” issues that threatened its TV and poll numbers.
It was too good to be true. The big stories were on the field. TV ratings are rising. New stars are aligning. Yet suddenly, there’s a reality check underscoring, in this post-Ray Rice era, that some, if not many, within the NFL’s ranks — including accused players — are still so capable of bungling matters that involve domestic violence. This is lost yardage in the worst way.
In the span of seven days: A star linebacker, Reuben Foster, arrested at the team hotel on the eve of a game for alleged domestic assault. Foster cut by the 49ers. Outrage ignited after Washington claimed Foster on waivers. Tone-deaf comments by Washington’s senior football exec, Doug Williams, who called Foster’s case “small potatoes” when compared to worse acts by some people in “high, high, high, high places.” A public apology from Williams for his insensitivity to women. A TMZ video revealing that the NFL’s reigning rushing champ, Kareem Hunt, shoved and kicked a woman during a February incident in Cleveland. Hunt cut by the Chiefs. The “Commissioner’s exempt list” open for business again.
It was the worst week for the NFL since September 2014. That’s when TMZ — the unofficial expose’ network of the NFL — released the inside-the-elevator video of Rice knocking out Janay Palmer (then fiancée, now wife) with one brutal punch. When the Panthers maintained that Greg Hardy, appealing a domestic violence conviction, would stay in the lineup until his legal process was completed (he never played another game for Carolina). When Adrian Peterson was indicted for reckless injury to a child, the four-year-old son he whipped with a switch. When Roger Goodell pretty much went into hiding.
Unfortunately, for all of the policies, additional personnel, resources, lip service and strategies employed by the NFL since 2014, domestic violence again looms as the league’s most pressing issue.
Will this prompt a presidential tweet?
It would be a mistake to lump all NFL players and decision-makers as tolerant of domestic violence or clueless in addressing such issues. But while social consciousness increases amid the #MeToo movement, the NFL has a serious perception issue conflicting with its many efforts to connect with and market to women, who also represent perhaps their fastest-growing fan base.
Meanwhile, as focus, debate and activity linked to national anthem protests this season has largely evaporated, blackballed Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job in a league that employs more than a few sorry quarterbacks — for reasons that have nothing to do with domestic violence.
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