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This weekend, my hometown football team, the Kansas City Chiefs made me ashamed, furious, and scared all at once. With their fifth-round draft pick, the Kansas City Chiefs selected wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Does that name sound familiar?
If it does, it's because you heard about him after his December 2014 domestic assault against his then-girlfriend. According to the charges, he choked her, beat her, and punched her in her eight-weeks-pregnant stomach. He pleaded guilty, was released from the Oklahoma State University football and track teams, and has been on probation ever since.
So what did the NFL do when he requested to enter the draft? They let him. He is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs organization.
It's been obvious for years that the National Football League has a little bit of a domestic violence problem. Back in 2014, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was arrested and indicted for aggravated assault after punching his then-fiancee (now his wife), knocking her out, and dragging her into an elevator. The NFL's punishment to Ray Rice for this violent misuse of his strength? A two-game suspension. (For comparison, Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets was suspended four games without pay after testing positive for marijuana last year.) Rice was not released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the League until later in 2014 when video of the incident was released to the public.
That same year, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. He agreed to a plea deal, and the potential felony of child abuse was reduced to a misdemeanor with a $4,000 fine. He avoided jail time altogether, and the NFL reinstated him. He is still on the active roster despite being found legally guilty of physically abusing a child.
Last year, the Seattle Seahawks drafted Frank Clark in the second round, who also was kicked off his college team after his arrest for domestic violence. (He also pleaded guilty to a felony home invasion charge several years ago, but his record was expunged due to a program in Michigan for first-time offenders under a certain age.) The outcry over this draft pick was quickly hushed when the NFL finished its investigation about the Patriots' deflate-gate scandal (for which Tom Brady was suspended four games). What serendipitous timing for the NFL, so frequently in the spotlight for its dismissive attitude towards the off-field violence. I could continue to list the examples of violent behavior from NFL players, but I hope you get the point.
Major League Baseball recently adopted a comprehensive discipline policy for perpetrators of domestic violence, in addition to rehabilitative care for the players and their families. The National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver takes a transparent approach to his investigation and decision-making process. The NFL frequently draws ire thanks to commissioner Roger Goodell's seemingly flippant approach to these infractions.
Tyreek Hill, drafted this weekend by the Kansas City Chiefs, is still on probation for strangling and punching his pregnant ex-girlfriend in December 2014. When a player is selected in the draft, the organization is essentially saying that they have a spot in their roster where they intend to place him. Draft picks can still be cut, but teams don't draft a player they don't intend to use. Barely a year after the crime occurred, he will likely be offered a contract by the professional athletic organization. According to team scout Ryne Nutt, the Chiefs did their due diligence in making sure this guy isn't a problem:
"I've talked with the Oklahoma [State] staff and the West Alabama staff. They all like the kid. He made a mistake. ...But he's a good person. He means well."
In the eyes of most decent human beings, somebody who chokes a pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach is usually not a "good person" who "means well." Furthermore, beating the snot out of somebody is not a mistake. A mistake is when I leave the grocery store and forget to pay for the Diet Coke hiding on the bottom tier of my cart. A mistake is when I leave raw chicken on the counter overnight. Physically abusing your girlfriend is not a mistake.
What message does this send to the victims of domestic violence — of all genders and ages — who live in and contribute to our society? What message does this send to the women of the world who feel their very safety threatened every day? What message does this send to the children who idolize athletes? (One terrifying possibility: if you make enough money for somebody with power, you can get away with just about anything.)
I'm all for giving people second chances. I support initiatives like Ban the Box, which advocate that asking about criminal history on a job application becomes a recovery roadblock for somebody trying to get their life right. That being said, there are certain professions that are not appropriate for people with criminal histories. For example, a person with a history of child molestation should never be allowed to work in a daycare, school, or recreation center. Does that mean that somebody with a history of child molestation should never be allowed to hold a job again? Of course not. That job just shouldn't involve proximity to children.
In the same way, a violent person should be allowed a chance to be a good person. That second chance should absolutely not begin with a spot on a professional football team while still under probation. Want to give him a chance to prove that he regrets his choices and has changed? Start him with another role in the NFL. Groundskeeping, janitorial services, transportation — anything will give him a chance to work and improve himself. If he is truly sorry and really wants to play football, he'll stick it out and try to make things right. By doing this, they would actually be giving the guy a second chance to become an upstanding citizen, rather than just dismissing his transgressions in the name of the Almighty Dollar. People can change, but this needs to be proven, not assumed. Meanwhile, I do not forgive domestic violence just because the guy made the correct sounds to say the words "I'm sorry."
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute. On average, 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines every day. One in three women and one in four men will be abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes. And, perhaps most alarming, only 34% of abuse victims will receive medical care for their injuries. Despite improvements in recent decades, domestic violence is still alive and well in the United States. By overlooking their own offenders, the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs are complicit in these acts.
The NFL has a problem, and they refuse to fix it. Women make up 50% of the population, and we have countless male allies, but the NFL doesn't listen to public outcry and continues to condone domestic violence. Maybe they'll listen if we hit them in their precious pocketbooks and stop consuming their product. Thus, I will not be watching a single down of Chiefs football this year. I had kept the rest of the NFL at arm's length for the last few years for this very problem. This year, neither the team nor the League will make a penny off of me. If you're a football fan, I ask you to consider making the same commitment. It's the most powerful weapon we have against these domestic violence apologists.
If you are being abused in your home or by a partner and need to contact a shelter, you may find one here. Your computer may be monitored; use a safe public computer, such as at a library.
610 Sports Radio is determined to create a positive outcome for our city from this negative situation by raising money for Rose Brooks, a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City. If you would like to donate to this effort, you may do so here through Sunday, May 8. Proceeds to the author from this publication will be donated to this cause.