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Football Writers Dust Off Their Old Dumb Takes About Domestic Violence, Somehow Make Them Dumber

Photo: Jason Hanna (Getty)

Since the Kansas City Chiefs indefinitely suspended Tyreek Hill last week for his alleged role in breaking his 3-year-old son’s arm and for threatening his fiancée in a leaked audio recording, the NFL Knowers have dutifully donned their thinking caps and pondered solutions. What the actual problem being solved is doesn’t seem to matter as much as action being taken and someone being held accountable for something.

For years, every time a player has gotten in trouble “off the field,” NFL writers have rushed to ask Roger Goodell to do something to make it stop, to get tough, to do something, and to fix it.

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This pattern has played out over and over again in the last few years. The NFL implements more and more complicated protocols for adjudicating crimes and allegations that it has no business adjudicating while entirely ignoring the people who are actually vulnerable; football writers, their brains evidently cooked to pulp after years spent floating in the NFL stew, beg the league to Get Tough on crime, especially domestic violence; efforts to get tough do not prevent bad things from happening; writers cry out for still more toughness; and on and on the wheel spins. This latest round of hysteria is a real doozy.

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Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who’s been rather more excitable than usual about the situation, wrote that the NFL should literally help subvert the Fifth Amendment, forcing Hill to cooperate with prosecutors and thereby saving the day:

As previously mentioned, the Fifth Amendment doesn’t apply to the NFL’s investigation regarding the situation, giving the league the ability to tell Hill in no uncertain terms that he’ll either cooperate with the effort to crack the case, or he won’t be permitted to work. It’s his choice; provide the information necessary to allow the perpetrator to be identified and prosecuted, or forfeit the privilege of playing in the NFL until he does.

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Even ignoring the legal questions at play, this plan would give the league unprecedented and terrifying control over its workers. The league already has the power to force players to cooperate with NFL investigations, but compelling players to cooperate with law enforcement by holding their livelihoods hostage would be an even greater expansion of the league’s power. A few days later, Florio toned it down from dodging constitutional rights to punishing teams whose players get in trouble by taking away draft picks. He wrote:

But what if the Chiefs knew when taking Hill that future trouble would cause them to lose one or more future picks? Would they have done a better job of studying him? Would they have been willing to roll the dice with a third-day pick? Would they have had an even greater incentive to ensure he gets whatever counseling, treatment, etc. that he needed in order to better manage anger?

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It’s tempting to cast around for an easy fix to a difficult problem, but imploring the NFL, the league that has over and over again botched its handling of sensitive issues like domestic violence and regular violence (those are different), is not the answer. If anything, more punitive measures would makes teams even more secretive about their players’ crimes and alleged crimes, further alienate victims, and grant the NFL more latitude to mete out its conceived-on-the-fly punishments. This is such an obviously bad proposal that naturally other NFL Knowers glommed onto it. In her NFL Draft roundup, Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas validated Florio’s idea, writing:

This is a smart idea by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, in the wake of the Tyreek Hill news, suggesting that the NFL increase the risk for teams who take on players with violent histories by taking away future draft picks if a player commits a serious off-field offense. The logistics would need to be worked out, but the idea would be to discourage teams from simply taking a flier on a player with a serious off-field offense and paying only lip service to them earning a second chance, and encourage them to take an active role in making sure the player receives counseling or treatment to help him rehabilitate his behaviors.

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There to work out the logistics was Sports Illustrated’s self-styled domestic violence expert Michael Rosenberg, who wrote, “It is tempting to say the Chiefs gambled on Hill and lost. The cold truth is that they gambled on Hill and won.” Rosenberg follows up that illuminating prose with his big plan:

Goodell could assign teams points whenever one of their players get in trouble, with the understanding that at a certain threshold, teams would be docked draft picks. This would be similar, in structure, to how NBA players are suspended after accumulating too many technical fouls. But would a player on the practice squad count as much as a starter? And if a player who has never been in trouble before gets arrested, should his team be punished as harshly as, for example, the Chiefs, who knowingly signed a domestic abuser?

It probably makes more sense for the league to flag certain players as high risk, based on their criminal histories, and set up a system that punishes the team that drafts or signs them if the players get in significant trouble again. The punishment could be greater depending on how well the player plays. (Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk recently suggested this.)

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Crime points? The impulse to fix a broken system is understandable, but leaving aside broad criticisms, this “plan” would ask Roger Goodell—a moron with a bachelor’s degree in economics who’s had one real job in his life—to sort out all the moral implications in these cases, rank them somehow, levy punishments for each, and then apply this highly scientific method to an entire swath of humanity in order to ... decide how many draft picks a football team will get. Rosenberg meekly alludes to potential problems with his plan before dismissing them out of hand:

This is easy for a columnist to write and hard for a commissioner to execute. Recent NFL history is full of overcorrections and complicated rules with unforeseen consequences. There are no simple answers, and the Players Association should have a voice in the discussions. But Goodell should try.

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Goodell, as one would expect NFL Knowers to know, has in fact tried, and the plan here presented as novel innovation is just a somehow even stupider iteration of an idea that was raised in 2014 after Ray Rice was caught hitting his then-finacée on camera. The wheel has now been spinning long enough for “recent NFL history” and all its “overcorrections and complicated rules with unforeseen consequences” to suggest to anyone who thinks about it for two seconds that more of the same won’t yield different results; that the NFL’s ever-growing extrajudicial power should be curtailed rather than expanded; and that the NFL should be required to work within the existing legal frameworks and not outside of it. Apparently being incapable of thinking about it for two seconds, some of the most prominent voices in NFL journalism are as one: Do what hasn’t worked but more so, and give a failed authority figure, who cares first and foremost about protecting the shield, more power to do it.

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