Lawrence: Double The Doubt

The NFL has been exposed again – and this time, it's lost the benefit of the doubt

Amy Lawrence
December 04, 2018 - 6:29 pm

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The NFL no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to investigating and punishing players for violations of the personal conduct policy, mistrust, cynicism, and skepticism are the order of the day. And the league has no one else to blame.

The video of Kareem Hunt shoving and kicking a young woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel is disturbing. Knowing Hunt played football all year even though it happened in February is infuriating. Seeing the truth on a grainy tape obtained by TMZ is all too familiar. The NFL got caught with its pants down in the Ray Rice case four seasons ago. Is it really possible the league hasn't made any progress and the Commissioner's office learned nothing from a scandal that will forever serve as a black mark in the sport's history? Watching Hunt lose his mind drudges up all those old familiar feelings. Why should fans believe any line the NFL spits out?? This is the bed the league has made for itself, and there's no easy way to climb out of it.

According to its statement, the NFL was not only aware of the altercation, but it did investigate. That process did not include the tape, which was deemed "new evidence" after it hit the internet. League officials claim they knew a tape existed and tried to obtain a copy from both the hotel and local law enforcement, running into brick walls in both cases. The hotel wouldn't share the incriminating video for obvious reasons, and the police didn't have it or want it with no felony charges pending. All of that is plausible, maybe even acceptable, if there's no past history. But we remember the NFL skirting around the police report with Rice. Even though we could all READ what happened in that elevator – how Rice knocked his fiancee out cold – the league still handed down a meager two-game suspension. It wasn't until the video went viral, thanks to TMZ, that the NFL took drastic steps to try to make amends in the eyes of a furious public. In Rice's case, the tape was reportedly delivered to the league with a voicemail to confirm, except the Commissioner and his staff swear they never saw it.

Eerily similar to the Hunt timeline, right? An incident requires a police report; the NFL investigates and doesn't seem to find the offense overly egregious; a tape surfaces; and THEN the league explodes into action. Even if it's the truth with Hunt – that the video wasn't available and no one knew he shoved and kicked a young woman and bowled over another man – why should we believe the NFL now? The owners and front office have been exposed in the past for trying to protect themselves and their image at all costs. Are we supposed to placidly accept the explanation with Hunt, despite what it looks like? Because it looks like the league was satisfied with Hunt's side of the story, and it looks like the NFL didn't try hard enough to see the tape or find someone who had. Maybe the league wanted to keep one of its best young players on the field since he's good for business, and maybe the Chiefs were complicit with the plan. It's easier to make that leap in 2018.

The league has lost the benefit of the doubt. Even if we want to believe investigators had no idea what actually happened in that hotel in February, we would be naive not to ask the burning questions. Why did TMZ end up with the damning evidence again? Why didn't the NFL use its multi-billion-dollar revenue stream to pay for the tape? Why did investigators give up on finding it? Why weren't they more tenacious than a tabloid? As always, with unanswered questions comes rampant speculation and wild conjecture, like "sources" saying the league told the Chiefs to stop pursuing a copy of the video. And while that makes absolutely no sense at face value, there are millions of people who now find it easier to believe the NFL is uninterested in discovering the truth or staying transparent in player investigations.

Ultimately, whether we buy the NFL's statement or we don't, whether we believe the Chiefs were also blindsided by the tape, none of their ineptitude or incompetence (take your pick) absolves Hunt himself. He's the only one responsible for his actions. Not only did he lose control in the heat of the moment and shove and kick a 19-year-old, but he also lied to his employer. Either he didn't know the video existed or he was assured it would never reach the light of day, but he took a calculated risk in hiding the truth from the Chiefs across multiple interviews. Now that the truth is out, he has no choice but to apologize, tell the world that's not who he really is, and hope for mercy. Except the video didn't simply reveal what happened in a hotel in February; the video also exposed Hunt to a harsh light shining into every corner of his life. The NFL is investigating two other incidents in which Hunt was involved, one in June and another from last January. The league reportedly didn't know anything about the latter, a problem at a nightclub, until TMZ uncovered it recently.

Hunt didn't walk away from an escalating situation. He didn't allow his friends to do the right thing and drag him out of trouble. He didn't own up to his violence or come clean with his bosses when he had the chance. Now he's paying the price. He faces more scrutiny, a lengthy suspension, lost wages, and potentially the abrupt end to a promising career. He had everything to lose, and he made a series of inexcusable choices. He attacked a young woman, and there's no defense for that. But his case should also be a wake-up call for the NFL. Whatever the league is doing or NOT doing to investigate player conduct violations isn't working, and the majority of fans no longer believe any statement, explanation or altruistic motive trotted out by the Commissioner's office.

The NFL is light on credibility, and we aren't willing to offer the benefit of the doubt anymore. With that trust so damaged, one thing is crystal clear: the NFL should leave no stone unturned when it launches an investigation and put its money where its mouth is to prevent any future “surprises."

 

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, cbssportsradio.com and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.