It’s been said that doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Or it means you’re National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell.
For nine months, Goodell and the Kansas City Chiefs knew about star running back Kareem Hunt’s violent altercation with a woman in a Cleveland hotel hallway, and for nine months Goodell and Hunt’s now-former team did absolutely nothing about it. Hunt claimed he wasn’t involved in the incident, and believing his self-serving lies was easier than searching for the truth.
Hunt played 11 games this season — until gossip site TMZ last week released a videotape of him shoving and kicking a woman back in February. Only then did the Chiefs immediately dump Hunt, who last season led the league in rushing yards.
This may all sound sickeningly familiar. Four years ago, TMZ also published the videotape of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée and dragging her unconscious body out of a New Jersey casino elevator. That’s when the team cut him; Goodell tried to let Rice slide with a measly two-game suspension.
At this point, TMZ would be a better commissioner than Goodell.
Asking whether the NFL has a violence-against-women problem is like asking whether New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is football’s G.O.A.T. Anyone who believes otherwise is delusional or fostering an agenda steeped in denial.
All those anti-domestic-violence PSAs airing during the Super Bowl can’t conceal the fact that the league is loathe to punish players who are violent with women. Last month, the San Francisco 49ers cut linebacker Reuben Foster after he was arrested for domestic violence, but he was quickly signed by that Washington Team With The Racist Name. After an uproar, including against Washington team executive Doug Williams, who called the accusations “small potatoes [compared to] a lot of things out there,” Foster was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list pending the outcome of his legal troubles.
I wouldn’t bet against Foster playing again.
“Small potatoes” is how the NFL regards violence against women. According to Hunt, NFL officials never bothered to interview him. Nor did they watch that awful video before it was released to the public — that’s also the case for the Chiefs and the Cleveland police department.
Plausible deniability — they don’t know because they don’t want to know. They behave as if they couldn’t find a handle on a teapot. Instead, they sat on a bombshell hoping that the facts wouldn’t explode in their faces.
“I didn’t tell [the Chiefs] everything,” Hunt told ESPN. “I don’t, you know, blame them for anything. My actions caused this.”
And Goodell’s actions keep allowing this to persist. This is unfolding as the Violence Against Women Act, without a single Republican cosponsor, is set to expire Friday.
If it defies logic that Goodell still has a job, that’s because we don’t understand the job he’s been hired to do. Clearly, the owners are thrilled with him. Last December, he signed a new five-year contract worth about $40 million a year including fat bonuses and incentives. To the owners, who really control the NFL, Goodell is worth every last penny. He’s a figurehead, the public face of NFL authority whose main objective is to keep those billions rolling in.
Goodell buffs the league’s image to such a fine shine that many can’t see anything beyond it. Last month, he crowed to reporters that “there’s no better time to be an NFL fan.” Ratings are up; nothing else matters. Instead, like the Catholic Church that spends more time pretending to care about child sexual abuse than doing anything to address it, Goodell doesn’t want to highlight this problem by making examples of men who use women as punching bags.
The NFL has an inconsistent personal conduct policy. Earlier this year, two women resigned in frustration from the players association’s commission on domestic violence. In a Washington Post op-ed, Deborah Epstein, co-director of Georgetown University’s Law Center Domestic Violence Clinic, said, “Because I care deeply about violence against women in the NFL and beyond, I can no longer continue to be part of a commission that is essentially a fig leaf.”
Goodell has displayed a near-Trumpian aptitude for doing the wrong thing. It’s not incompetence. It’s well-honed ignorance, for which he is well compensated. Those soaring game-day ratings seem to outweigh the fact that the NFL treats violence against women as a distraction best handled with silence and inaction.
For Goodell, it’s yet another failure in a spotlight moment. With this many crucial fumbles, if he were a player instead of a puppet commissioner, he’d have already been cut.