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The NFL Promised It Would Change. The Kareem Hunt Failure Proves It Hasn’t.

The Kansas City Chiefs released the running back on Friday, but only after TMZ published a video showing Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in February. That it took until now for the league and team to take public action is a betrayal of everyone who’s made the mistake of taking the NFL at its word.

TMZ/Ringer illustration

[Update: After publication, the Kansas City Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt on Friday evening, saying: “Earlier this year, we were made aware of an incident involving running back Kareem Hunt. At that time, the National Football League and law enforcement initiated investigations into the issue. As part of our internal discussions with Kareem, several members of our management team spoke directly to him. Kareem was not truthful in those discussions. The video released today confirms that fact. We are releasing Kareem immediately.”

Earlier that day, the NFL released a statement saying that Hunt has been placed on the Commissioner Exempt list. While on the list, he is not allowed to play in games, even if signed to a team. The statement also said, “The NFL’s investigation, which began immediately following the incident in February, will include a review of the new information that was made public [Friday].” Also on Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that according to a “source familiar with the situation,” neither the league nor the team had viewed the video prior to TMZ publishing it.]

Time and again, the NFL has sworn it would do better. When players commit acts of violence, we’ve been told, investigations will follow. There will be thoughtful deliberation, and hard questions, and counseling, and suspensions that take violence into account. Football, they say, will be secondary to getting these things right. This time, the league has said again and again, it is committed.

And so we can boil down what’s happening with Kareem Hunt simply to this: It is a betrayal. Of Chiefs fans, of football fans, of women, of men, of people, of every last sorry dope who made the mistake of taking the NFL at its word.

On Friday afternoon, TMZ published video from February that shows Hunt striking and kicking a 19-year-old woman in the Cleveland hotel where he lived. The video is brutal, capturing the Chiefs running back repeatedly returning to the woman as other people tried to restrain him. It’s when she is crouching, seemingly dazed after being knocked to the ground, that Hunt hurtles toward her and kicks, knocking her once more to the floor, after which he turns on his heel and walks away without giving her another look. It is, needless to say, a disturbing sequence.

But in the nine months since this happened, you might not have known much about the severity of the incident, or perhaps even that there was an incident at all — because, until now, there was little for the public to know. That night, police were called to the hotel, both by the woman Hunt struck and by hotel security. Witnesses gave different accounts of what transpired. A subsequent police report, which was excerpted in news coverage later that week, recorded the woman saying that Hunt “shoved and pushed” her, resulting in abrasions and a scratch; the dispatch log noted that she was “very anxious” for officers to arrive. One of Hunt’s friends told police that the woman had used a racial slur, and another woman present filed a separate report saying she was attacked by the woman Hunt struck. There were no arrests and no charges were filed, and the story slipped out of the spotlight. Hunt was not disciplined by the Chiefs. The incident occurred after the end of Kansas City’s season, and by the time training camp rolled around this summer, the running back was telling reporters that he’d “learned from it” and was “going to keep thinking about football.” Kansas City head coach Andy Reid, Hunt said, gave him this advice: “Just move forward and focus on football.” He has played in every game since.

Note that I said there was little for the public to know. For the Chiefs and for the league, and for the people employed by the NFL ostensibly for the purpose of investigating incidents like this one, there was more. There was, for starters, the video that TMZ published on Friday. At present, it is unclear whether either the Chiefs or the NFL had viewed it before TMZ’s story. That either party might not have is equal parts risible — this occurred in a hotel hallway, so all parties would have known that footage was readily available — and distressingly believable. Which is worse: For the Chiefs and NFL to have seen this video and not deemed it problematic enough to warrant a league investigation or suspension, or for the Chiefs and NFL to have not even bothered trying to find out whether there was video of Hunt assaulting a teenager? Did the Chiefs reach out to her? Wouldn’t they want to know the full extent of what happened that night, and what their young star is capable of?

Since 2014, when video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée in an elevator was published by TMZ, and we learned that the league had viewed the brutal footage shortly after it occurred, seven months earlier, and largely dismissed it, the NFL has vowed to do better. The league’s behavior then was deplorable: Rice was initially given a two-game suspension and then permitted to return to the field. It was not until the video went public and fans recoiled in horror that the league revisited the matter, suspending Rice indefinitely. (He later won an appeal to be reinstated, but has not played in the NFL since.) With Rice, the NFL tried to sweep his violence under the rug — move forward and focus on football! — and did the right thing only when shamed into it by an aghast public. It was cowardly, monstrous, and deeply cynical behavior — but the league did, at least, seem to recognize this.

“I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter, and I’m sorry for that,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in 2014. “The same mistakes can never be repeated.”

And yet here we are once more. It doesn’t matter, really, whether Goodell or the people he employs saw the video. Nor, indeed, should a video be necessary to force the league into action. It matters that the NFL didn’t care, and it matters that after so many years of telling us that football will do better and be better, the truth is still clear: It won’t.