After a turbulent week, the only thing the NFL can do is change

In less than a week, two scandals hit the NFL, with both revealing the foundational corruption in the most popular sports league in America. On Tuesday, linebacker Reuben Foster was picked up by the Washington Redskins after being cut by the San Francisco 49ers following his arrest for first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence battery. On Friday, TMZ published a video of star running back Kareem Hunt hitting and kicking a woman in a hotel room. He was soon cut by the Kansas City Chiefs. Both these incidents have illuminated just how much the NFL hasn’t changed, and just how much it doesn’t care.

Foster has a history of domestic violence. In February, he was arrested for a charge of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend. She later said she fabricated the claims, but she was the same victim of last week’s incident in Tampa Bay, when Foster was in town for the 49ers upcoming game. Washington’s quick pickup of Foster has been met with severe criticism, and I echo the same sentiments. What are they doing? According to the victim’s lawyer, the team didn’t even bother to contact her to ask about what happened, indicating what has become quite clear: they just don’t care. And the fact that an NFL team so openly shows just how little they care about domestic violence is chilling, and to be frank, sickening.

But the biggest domestic violence scandal to rock the NFL since the Ray Rice case in 2014 is what happened on Friday. Just like with Rice, TMZ obtained and published the video of Kareem Hunt from a February incident. The Chiefs cut him, but that is just doing the bare minimum. This is not a time to praise them, and there never should be. They had the police report since February and didn’t do anything. Who would want to part ways with a 23-year-old star running back in the middle of a Super Bowl run? The language in the team’s announcement is also quite disturbing, implying that they cut him for lying about the incident, and not his actual actions.

The teams in both cases are trying to wash off the stains on their hands, but the real issue here is with the NFL itself. Unfortunately, violent behavior against women is nothing new in football — it’s nothing new in society. But since 2014, when TMZ published a video of Rice beating his then-fiancé, the league has tried to put up airs of changing, of being different. They introduced a stricter domestic violence and assault policy, but it has proven to be insufficient and broken. The league, a multi-billion dollar institution, can’t seem to get access to an important video before TMZ does, or maybe the NFL just doesn’t care.
The NFL is a business, and when there are great, talented players doing amazing things, the league is producing a better product. When the product is better and money is rolling in, they are often forgiven; forgiven for past mistakes, for current ones, and for future ones. They get a fine or a slap on the wrist. They are suspended for a couple games, or fade from public knowledge. But that doesn’t mean the NFL has changed.

Yes, there are differences between the Rice and Hunt cases. Rice was initially charged and arrested for the initial crime while Hunt never was. There was evidence that the NFL saw the video of Rice, but did nothing about it until it was released to outcry and backlash. Even if the NFL hadn’t seen the Hunt video before Friday, as sources say, it is damning that TMZ is better at investigating the issues of NFL employees than the NFL.

The NFL carries international influence and clout. It’s connected to the richest people in the world. Its players and coaches are household names. For six months, they rule the news, the TV, the sports world, and the pop culture world. The NFL is such a behemoth that it believes it can withstand scandal, which it has. From the Rice case to the anthem-kneeling policy of the last two years, the NFL stands tall, because America just wants to watch football. Americans want to wear their colors and jerseys, get drunk with their friends, and enjoy three-and-a-half hours of fun and escape.

Sometimes I wonder why I still watch football. It’s an extremely violent sport. Most of my family and friends either don’t understand it or don’t care. It leads to brain damage and horrible physical injuries for players. But I grew up in Baltimore, a football town. Everyone watched the game on Sunday, purple was everywhere, and sometimes we’d get purple icing on our Dunkin’ Donuts. I watched the Ray Rice case unfold, but I also watched the Ravens win a Super Bowl. There’s nothing like the euphoric moment of watching and experiencing your team win. It’s pure joy, however fleeting. It’s silly, it’s trivial. But no matter how much our team breaks our hearts, no matter how many concussions we witness or how many domestic violence scandals pepper the headlines, football continues to roll along.

I love football. I think I always will. But weeks like these remind me that in the end, it’s just football. There are many more important things, like the victims of domestic violence and abuse. If the NFL continues to employ these offenders, the league is sending a message that victims don’t matter, that money is more important than their lives, that domestic violence isn’t serious. If the NFL does nothing, if it stands by and only acts for its public reputation and monetary interests, it sends the same message. If the NFL doesn’t change, then it will have one less viewer. And I don’t think I’m alone.