The Cleveland Browns are in the news today! Usually this would be my cue to pile on to the three million jokes that have already been made about how shitty that franchise has been since forever, or possibly even take a dump on the city they play in…
…Actually, I am going to do the latter because that hastily made Cleveland tourism video is still funny almost ten years later.
But today’s news deserves a bit more gravitas then I’m used to affording the Browns because it underlines yet another example of the NFL being Just The Worst®™.
The news is that the Browns have signed former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt to a one-year contract. You may remember him from his starring role in that hotel video where he knocked a woman to the ground and literally kicked her while she was down.
John Dorsey, the man who drafted Hunt as the general manager in Kansas City, is now the GM of the Browns. And let’s make no mistake about it. Dorsey is willing to give Hunt a second chance because Hunt is very good at football. As a rookie in 2017, Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He was having another stellar year – 14 touchdowns in 11 games – before being released by the Chiefs in November upon publication of the damning video.
Hunt is still indefinitely suspended by the league, and the subject of an open NFL investigation. Until that reaches its conclusion and a final punishment is decided, he will be on the commissioner’s exempt list and ineligible to suit up.
Now, there’s no doubt that Hunt can be a valuable on-field asset to the Browns, who despite decades of ridicule, could actually be (*gulp*) a playoff team next season. In my mind though, that couldn’t be further from the point.
This is a league where pot smokers and socially conscious black men are considered some kind of scourge that must be disciplined into oblivion (see Gordon, Josh or Kaepernick, Colin). So how is it that men who have committed violent acts – particularly against women – are so frequently given lighter punishments and deemed worthy of the oh-so-coveted Second Chance?
*Though the Hunt incident does not fall under the “domestic” violence label, it is clearly adjacent to the issue. Nearly five years have passed since the infamous Ray Rice saga that was supposed to set the NFL on a path of course correction for how it handles issues of domestic violence. Yes, the league has put more teeth into its disciplinary policy of how it handles these kinds of incidents since then. However, to draw a line in the sand against civil protest and blazing the sticky-icky while NFL owners have continued to employ the likes of (to name a few) Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, LeSean McCoy, Joe Mixon, and now Kareem Hunt…it frankly just feels gross.
There are many factors that play into this, not the least of which is that NFL teams will reach as deep as they can for players that will help win them football games. But one of the most glaring problems to me is that not nearly enough women are in the room to help with the day-to-day operations of the league.
Only about a third of the NFL’s employees are female, despite nearly half of their fan base consisting of women. None of those employees are in coaching or a general manager’s office. So why should we be surprised that issues that affect women are not being dealt with properly or are just being outright ignored?
Want the proof? Read this article written in The Washington Post last year by Deborah Epstein. Epstein is a professor of law and co-director at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic. Her op-ed piece leads with a searing headline: “I’m done helping the NFL Players Association pay lip service to domestic violence prevention.” It serves to give you the clearest picture of just how tone-deaf the NFL is when it comes to this problem.
After being hired to serve on the NFLPA’s commission on domestic violence, Epstein became so frustrated with their refusal to enact any substantial change that she felt she had no choice but to resign from her post.
I spent the first year enthusiastically attending meetings and helping the commission make connections with the advocacy community. I worked with Lisa Goodman, a Boston College research psychologist with experience working with survivors of intimate-partner violence, to conduct a national study of players’ wives and their suggestions for dealing with family violence in this particular, high-profile community. At the NFLPA’s insistence, we signed a confidentiality agreement that prevents us from publicly discussing our research findings. But we made numerous systematic recommendations of concrete steps that would go a long way toward dramatically lowering the risk of domestic violence in professional football.
That study was completed two years ago, in June 2016. Since then, despite my numerous requests, the commission has met only three times. As of our last meeting, the NFLPA had not implemented any of the reforms proposed in our study.
She would eventually author a letter of resignation, outlining her reasoning for no longer wanting to be a part of a commission that was proving itself to be a sham. The response was a loud-and-clear middle finger…
…the NFLPA’s response to my letter of resignation? A one-line email thanking me for my service but failing to acknowledge or respond to any of the substantive points set forth. The email was short, but its message couldn’t have been clearer: The NFL Players Association is no longer interested in even making a public show of concern about violence against women
The NFL isn’t exactly known as a beacon of consistency. But at least we know we can count on them for one thing. Whenever they are faced with the prospect of having to do right by women who have been assaulted by one of their players, they will find a way to fuck it up.
My proposed solution? If these guys can’t figure this out without stepping all over their own dicks, maybe have a few less dicks in the room and add a few more women.
*This post originally labeled Kareem Hunt’s assault as a case of domestic violence. Though Hunt did assault a woman, it was not in a domestic setting. The post has been edited to correct the error.