It has been a gruesome week for the National Football League (NFL). Just hours before kickoff on Sunday, Nov. 25, Reuben Foster, star linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested on charges of domestic assault for an incident that occurred the day before. He was cut by the team two hours later and placed on the Commissioner Exempt List on Monday, which prevents him from practicing or playing in any game until the matter is investigated by the league. The public and NFL community alike were furious when the Washington Redskins claimed him off waivers on Tuesday afternoon. Washington’s senior football executive Doug Williams further provoked outrage on Thursday when he called Foster’s domestic abuse “small potatoes” compared to “people … in high, high, high places that have done far worse” in a press conference following the signing. On Friday Williams called an emergency press conference to apologize for his careless remarks toward women. On the same day, a video was released by TMZ of an incident that occurred in February showing one of the NFL’s top running backs, Kareem Hunt, shoving and kicking a woman outside his residence in Cleveland, Ohio — and he was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs hours later.
The NFL has not suffered a setback this significant in such a short amount of time concerning its domestic abuse policies since Sept. 2014, when the infamous video of Ray Rice, former Baltimore Ravens running back, was released. The viral video showed Rice throwing a punch that knocked out his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator. In the same month, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was declared able to stay in the lineup until the investigation was completed into his domestic violence conviction in which he was accused of beating and throwing his ex-girlfriend onto a pile of guns. He was eventually suspended for 10 games, but pleaded down to just four. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings running back, was then indicted for reckless injury to a child for whipping his four-year-old son with a switch. Despite all its new policies implemented after these incidents and talk of reforming the league to deal more appropriately with domestic violence, the NFL is sending mixed signals about how it treats violent offenders. The commissioner’s office and team executives have evidently not learned as much as they claimed following the Ray Rice incident.
This was not an isolated incident by Reuben Foster, which makes his signing by Washington even more absurd. The incident in question occurred on Saturday, Nov. 24 in Tampa, FL. The victim, Elissa Ennis, Foster’s on-again, off-again girlfriend for the last three years, said Foster “slapped her phone out of her hand, pushed her in the chest area, and slapped her with an open hand on the right side of her face.” He was previously charged with felony domestic violence in April for allegedly attacking Ennis in February 2018, leaving her with bruises and a ruptured eardrum, but charges were dismissed after Ennis recanted her story. It is important to note that despite the case’s dismissal, the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office stated in their report that the evidence did demonstrate that Foster “seriously hurt his girlfriend.” Foster was also suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season in relation to a weapons offense and misdemeanor drug charge that occurred earlier this year.
This shocking move by Washington threatens to expose the smoke and mirrors job done by the commissioner’s office to demonstrate their supposed intolerance for domestic violence offenders in the NFL. Williams’ direct comments about his perception of the severity of Foster’s crimes only worsens the impending media nightmare for the organization. Foster will remain on the Exempt list while his arrest is reviewed, and because he is a repeat offender, he could face severe discipline by the league if they choose to enforce the policies instituted after Sept. 2014.
Kareem Hunt had been having a spectacular season as running back for the Kansas City Chiefs and in the last 27 games spanning the last three seasons, Hunt scored 25 touchdowns and ran for 2,984 yards from scrimmage. In this video, Hunt appears to argue with a woman, knock her to the ground and then kick her as others try to break up the fight. However, at only 23 years old, it is highly likely that he will be signed again in the near future, but teams are likely more wary to sign him as quickly as Foster due to the video evidence depicting the entire incident released to the public. The NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs knew about this incident when it occured in February and conducted their own investigation, but they failed to interview Hunt, the victim or even see the video that was supposedly also not seen by police until it was made public on Friday by TMZ, according to ESPN. This is the same league that tortured viewers for months about “Deflategate,” during which they hired a plethora of attorneys, conducted interviews with dozens of people and filed a 139-page report about whether or not Tom Brady knew that balls were deflated during the American Football Conference (AFC) Title game in 2015. In contrast, in the 11 months since the Hunt investigation began, the NFL has produced nothing. This casts a very poor light on the commissioner’s office, which has repeatedly demonstrated skewed morals when it comes to administering punishments, treating victimless events that occur in-game as more severe offenses than brutality against women.
When Hunt was eventually interviewed by the team about the incident, Kansas City claimed in their statement released on Twitter that “Kareem was not truthful in those discussions” concerning the extent of his brutality toward the victim, which is why he was released. The statement by the Chiefs seems to indicate that Hunt is not being released for striking a woman but for lying about the incident to the team. In Hunt’s case, it appears that the NFL has mishandled every step of the investigation and failed to take any substantial action until the video was released and the NFL was forced into taking action against their prized running back. This incident is incredibly similar to that of Ray Rice and yet somehow the league was caught on its heels again by a previously unseen video published by TMZ.
The events of this past week have exposed the NFL’s systematic mishandling of domestic assault and their contradicting perspectives on the treatment of players who are charged with such crimes. In today’s climate, with the #MeToo movement sweeping through Hollywood and celebrities from many forms of entertainment beginning to be held responsible for their actions, the NFL is falling flat and proving time and time again that they are unwilling to adequately hold a player responsible if he performs well enough on the field. A player should not be immediately re-signed when he shows a pattern of abuse toward others and there is an open investigation into his most recent domestic abuse charge. The NFL should not only take action when a video is accidentally leaked and the public outcry forces them to hold players responsible. One would only wish that eventually the NFL will learn to afford women the same — or perhaps even more — respect that they do their footballs.