Just when it appeared that the NFL was getting out of the business of policing the private lives of players not arrested or charged with crimes, the NFL pulled itself back in, with the six-game suspension imposed on Seahawks defensive lineman Jarran Reed.
Although the league seems to be exercising far more caution when dealing with players who never faced the scrutiny of the criminal justice system, the NFL’s in-house system of justice becomes much easier to apply in the absence of formal public legal proceedings when the alleged victim of a player’s wrongdoing chooses to cooperate with the NFL.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the alleged victim in Reed’s case did indeed cooperate. If she had refused to do so, it would have become much more difficult for the league to do anything about the allegations against Reed, because (as noted on Monday in connection with the league’s inability to get information regarding the child-abuse investigation involving the son of Tyreek Hill), the league has no power to force people not connected to the NFL or any of its teams to cooperate.
This fundamental flaw in the NFL’s ability to gather potentially relevant evidence likely contributes to the perception/reality of inconsistent outcomes more than anything else, although plenty of other flaws exist in the process. It’s gotten bad enough that an employee of the NFL — Judy Battista of NFL Media — publicly said what needed to be said regarding the confusion created by the Friday decision not to suspend Hill and the next-business-day decision to suspend Reed.
“I know domestic violence cases are difficult & sensitive,” Battista said on Twitter. “But the wildly different outcomes of NFL investigations without much public explanation give the impression to players & fans the discipline is random & arbitrary. True or not, it’s a bad look and the NFL has to fix it.”
She’s right, and hopefully instead of getting miffed that someone who is supposed to be part of the broader “team” has decided to provide a fair, honest, and candid critique of the situation, the NFL will engage in a fair, honest, and candid assessment of its own subpar procedures in order to ensure that discipline of a player doesn’t hinge on whether a witness with no connection to the league is willing to talk.
In Hill’s case, the mother of the child reportedly refused to cooperate. The Kareem Hunt case languished (until TMZ got involved) in large part because the victim refused to cooperate. Conversely, the alleged victim in Ezekiel Elliott‘s case from 2017 willingly submitted to interviews at least six times — even though when the time came for Elliott to defend himself the league basically said, “We have no power to compel her to show up and be questioned.”
So, yes, the perception is that the league is all over the place when it comes to disciplining players who were never arrested or charged. It’s also the reality.