NFL once again dropped the ball in Kareem Hunt situation

Dan WetzelColumnist

When news reached the NFL last February that Kansas City star running back Kareem Hunt was allegedly involved in an incident of violence against a woman, the league decided to investigate.

Well, sort of.

It actually decided to collaborate on an investigation with the Chiefs, the team that employed Hunt and had much to lose if he were suspended.

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Kansas City released the 23-year-old Friday after TMZ published security tape of him striking a woman in the hallway outside his apartment. Hunt hadn’t been initially disciplined because no legal charges were filed, police didn’t share the tape with the NFL or the Chiefs, and Hunt told a different story about the event that the Chiefs now say was a lie. The team cited that deception as the reason he was fired.

ESPN reported Sunday that “during its investigation into the February incident that cost Kareem Hunt his job, the NFL did not interview the running back or the woman he shoved and kicked. … The NFL never requested an interview with Hunt after the incident that occurred outside his Cleveland residence. The NFL did reach out to the woman and her friend on multiple occasions, but they did not respond.”

The reason the NFL didn’t bother to interview Hunt is because Kansas City did it and the league accepted Kansas City’s findings.

The issue here is procedure and the fact the NFL adhered to such an investigative process riddled with issues.

The NFL took what Hunt told the Chiefs as both fact and the most revealing information possible. It didn’t bother speaking to him directly. The NFL, meanwhile, tried to get the security tape but failed, and told the Chiefs to not bother trying themselves, according to The Athletic.

The Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt on Friday. (AP)
The Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt on Friday. (AP)

Allowing Kansas City to handle the Hunt interview is nonsensical.

The Chiefs, quite obviously, would have significant incentive to view the situation in the best possible light for Hunt, thus avoiding losing a key player.

That isn’t to say the Chiefs’ investigation suffered from bias. No one knows that for sure. It may have been forceful and ethical … although it clearly didn’t catch the lie. Nor is it to say that the NFL wouldn’t have gotten the same story out of Hunt as Kansas City did. No one knows that for sure either, but that’s the problem.

Any investigation by Kansas City suffers from the appearance of bias. The NFL should have either told the team to step back completely, or the NFL should have conducted its own independent investigation and not worried about what the Chiefs concluded, other than to compare notes.

The conflicted lines here are obvious. When Hunt told the Chiefs his story, were they unduly sympathetic or believing? Did they press him on details? Did they seek small conflicts that could unravel everything? Did whoever was asking the questions have a personal, or even professional, relationship with Hunt?

The NFL didn’t care about any of that? Why wouldn’t it do this itself, if only to see if there were divergences between Hunt’s various accounts? This is a league that spent millions of dollars, months of time and took things all the way to federal court to try to figure out the inflation levels of some footballs.

Yet it couldn’t be bothered to speak with Hunt over whether he beat up a woman?

The NFL should never, ever let a team interview be the only interview of the key participant. No reasonable investigative system would do that.

It’s almost impossible to believe the NFL has protocol like this except … well, it’s the NFL.

Finding the truth in a domestic situation is extremely challenging. Even the most highly trained and specialized law enforcement struggle with it. Details are hazy. Opinions conflict. Witnesses are unavailable – clearly the woman involved just wanted to move on with her life. That’s understandable.

Because of its complexity, it is reasonable that investigators, be them from law enforcement or the NFL, could fail to properly discover what happened. No one is omniscient.

Yet because of that very complexity, no corners can be cut. When the task is so daunting, you can’t take someone else’s interview as the last word on the matter, especially when it’s an entity with so much to lose.

The NFL bristles at suggestions that it doesn’t take alleged incidents of domestic violence seriously.

Yet its lack of credibility stems from details such as this. Investigating something to the bitter end and getting it wrong is excusable. Just taking someone else’s word for it is not.

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