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The NFL Is The Model Of Consistency — In The Worst Possible Way

Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt reacts to a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Kelvin Kuo/AP)
Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt reacts to a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Kelvin Kuo/AP)

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The stories of Kareem Hunt and Reuben Foster have provoked some people to complain that the National Football League has been inconsistent in the diligence of its investigations and the dispensing of discipline.

In part, that argument has it that while the league spent a great deal of money and time investigating claims that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had conspired to let the air out of some of the footballs used in a postseason game, the NFL couldn’t manage to find videotape of Hunt pushing and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel.

In fact, the NFL has been absolutely consistent. Roger Goodell has made it clear throughout his term as commissioner of the league that his primary purpose is to “protect the shield.” By this, he means that as the representative of the men who own the NFL teams, his job is to deflect any criticism that might diminish that investment’s value. He understands that this is his job. He has been good at it, which explains why he still has it.

In this May 23, 2018, file photo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell listens during a news conference in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)
In this May 23, 2018, file photo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell listens during a news conference in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

On its face, the investigation of whether Tom Brady had caused some footballs to be deflated was ridiculous. But as a diversion from the discussion of the brain damage suffered by pro football players, it was genius. Everybody who loved the Patriots could jeer at the commissioner for his obsession with allegedly deflated footballs. Everybody who hated the Patriots could have a grand time raging against the league’s most egregious cheaters. Great fun for all concerned. A stupid controversy, but an easy one to shout about.

And it was a triumph for the commissioner. If you were Roger Goodell, which subject would you rather have people talking about? The alleged deflating of footballs by the quarterback of one of the NFL’s most loved and most hated teams? Or the fact that the roster of former players is littered with men suffering from dementia, memory loss, violent mood swings, business failures, loss of jobs, divorces, and ALS, as well as various formerly heroic gladiators who’ve killed themselves rather than continue to endure the deterioration of their lives caused by the game they used to play?

The league’s conduct and the conduct of the NFL Players’ Association has also been consistent with regard to players who’ve beaten, kicked, or otherwise abused women. The league does not wish to acknowledge that such conduct occurs. So it doesn’t investigate stories indicating that it does. Such investigations might turn up bad news that would reflect badly on the NFL, and who needs that?

Only when somebody unconnected with the league, TMZ, for example, turns up irrefutable video evidence that a player has shoved, beaten, kicked, knocked out, or otherwise abused a woman does the league take notice.

Roger Goodell has made it clear throughout his term as commissioner of the league that his primary purpose is to 'protect the shield.'

But even then, the notice is designed to deflect criticism from the league, rather than to address any concern about violence against women in the NFL and beyond. The Players Association established a panel to explore the issue, then failed to share with the public the report that panel produced.

The NFL has yet to examine such concerns as the extent to which various factors at work in their workplace make violence against women more likely: the celebration and glorification of violence on the field, for example, and more particularly, the causal connections between the brain damage players are still suffering every week and irrational, dangerous, violent behavior by some of those players when they’re not at work.

Honest exploration of those potential connections might lead to an examination of whether the nation’s most popular sport was healthy for its players and the community at large. Such an examination is the last thing the commissioner and the owners of the NFL teams want. It might diminish the value of their investment, which, by definition, wouldn’t be good for the shield. Every statement and every move made by the NFL and the Players’ Association should be considered in the light of that concern, and in the light of that concern, both entities have been entirely consistent.

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