We want so badly to believe that the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ersshowed us this week that the NFL has mostly learned its lesson about players who abuse women four years after Ray Rice gave everyone a brutal tutorial in how to mismanage a domestic violence crisis.
In releasing Kareem Hunt Friday night, the Chiefs said Hunt had not been truthful about the violent incident depicted in the video that surfaced Friday afternoon. It’s a question for another day how NFL investigators still haven’t found ways to procure tapes that others can, despite what they said in a statement has been an investigation that began in February. At least when the NFL and the Chiefs say they finally saw the tape, the Chiefs moved quickly to get rid of Hunt.
The issue now is the moral quandary into which Hunt’s release just thrust the other 31 teams.
Which, if any, will claim Hunt off waivers? Let’s not be naïve. Teams will, at the very least, poke around the case. The Washington Redskins did it earlier this week, when the 49ers released Reuben Foster after he was arrested last Saturday following an alleged domestic violence incident at the team hotel the night before a game. It was not the first time Foster had been accused and arrested and the 49ersfinally made the decision they should have made months before.
But just as quickly, the Redskins reminded everyone that there are still NFL teams where the math boils down to its crudest elements: win at all costs. And they compounded a terrible mistake by sending out Doug Williams and Jay Gruden to explain it, allowing the team’s top decision makers — owner Dan Snyder and the team’s senior executive Bruce Allen — to hide behind their football men.
Washington has been roundly criticized, but their leadership clearly made the calculation that by the time Foster is off the Commissioner/Exempt List — even if he serves a suspension — the furor will have died down and they will emerge with a young defensive player. It is a cynical, misguided judgment unless it helps them win games. The Redskins are banking on that making their Foster decision more palatable.
Are they the only team that would make such a moral calculus? We’re about to find out, maybe as soon as Monday. Hunt is a wildly talented player at a skill position, a much more impactful player than Foster and Rice before him, whose suspension ended a career that was already fading. Hunt is 23 and has scored 14 touchdowns through 11 games. With him, the Chiefs were the best team in the AFC.
It’s hard to envision Hunt playing again this season, but once the league finishes its investigation and makes a final determination on whether he will serve a suspension — six games is the baseline for a domestic violence violation — it’s going to take an awfully strong, principled stand for a team in need of explosive offensive weapons to resist his contributions.
The Redskins didn’t have the will to resist Foster.
The difference in these cases, of course, is on your television or your phone. There was no video of Foster’s incident. And if the video had never surfaced of Hunt, he would still be on the Chiefs. They would have continued to believe his apparent denials that the incident ever happened and they would still be in good position for a deep playoff run.
We want badly to believe that the Redskinsare a troubling outlier, that the Chiefs slicing out a big part of their offense in the season’s final month will someday look more like the norm and not the shock it was Friday night. But we’ll wait for the waiver wire and perhaps the suspension to pass and we’ll see where Hunt is then. Then we’ll really know which of the ethical calculations made this week — the ones by the 49ers and the Chiefs or the one by the Redskins — are the NFL’s new math.