IRVING, Texas – You might think that Roger Goodell has assembled a veritable “Dream Team” to carry the ball for the NFL when it comes to the slippery slope of investigations into personal conduct.
Consider the star power: B. Todd Jones is a former U.S. Attorney who was previously director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Cathy Lanier left her post as the police chief of Washington D.C. to join the NFL. Lisa Friel was once New York City’s prosecutor.
And the owner who chairs the league’s conduct committee, Arizona’s Michael Bidwill, brings some rich expertise as a former prosecutor, too.
Yet despite all of that experience and credibility, it may sometimes seem that the NFL has an ultimate “fantasy team” when it comes to getting to the bottom of real-world encounters that can leave such a stain on the league’s precious reputation.
As team owners gathered at a resort hotel near Dallas on Wednesday for a one-day meeting, the league vehemently defended its handling of the investigation into former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt’s violence against a woman during a February incident at a Cleveland hotel – a case that broke open on Nov. 30 when TMZ released hotel surveillance camera video of the encounter.
Until that video became public, Hunt – who wasn’t arrested or charged after police responded to the woman’s 911 call – was a star for one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
Shortly after the video surfaced, Hunt was released by the Chiefs.
Yet it makes you wonder: If TMZ can get the video, why can’t the NFL save itself some embarrassment and get the footage itself?
The NFL won’t pay for it. Not then. Not now. Not tomorrow. Or so they declare.
“That is not likely at all,” Jones told reporters when asked if he could imagine any scenario where the league would pay for evidence. “To become mercenary and pay for videos opens up a Pandora’s Box of all kinds of opportunities and things that may come to us from not just surveillance videos in public places, or surveillance videos in residences, but you’re talking about the world of social media and everybody on a smartphone.
“TMZ is in the business of paying for people’s smartphone (material) for a fee, for service. And the NFL’s not going there.”
That’s a solid principle. Of course, the NFL doesn’t have subpoena power and its security agents, as Bidwill reminded, can’t make arrests.
Besides, paying for video would be encouraging people in some, if not many cases, to break the law by stealing from employers.
As Goodell echoed, “We’re not going to do it by corrupting people, by trying to bribe people. That’s not what we do.”
Of course, that moral ground probably wasn’t what former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson stood on when, according to Sports Illustrated, he made financial payments to former employees who accused him of workplace misconduct.
Then again, Richardson is out of the league, forced to sell his franchise (with mega millions in profit) after the scandal became public. But the details that were revealed about his case surely suggest that sometimes powerful people and organizations pay in order to save face.
Still, when it comes to NFL and investigations into personal conduct – beefed up with personnel, resources and policy after TMZ’s 2014 release of the inside-the-elevator video of Ray Rice knocking out then-fiancee Janay Palmer – there’s not much choice in eschewing a pay-per-view pattern. It’s just that the risk includes the embarrassments such as Hunt's case.
Even so, while Goodell and Co. contend that they are continuing to learn lessons, it seems strange that league investigators – knowing that some form of video existed – did not interview Hunt early in the process as the Chiefs did.
Jones maintained, “People in the business understand that you don’t sit down with the subject until you have a fuller handle on the facts because you’ve got to be able to ask some intelligent questions beyond, ‘Were you there and did you do anything?’ “
No doubt, four years after the NFL unveiled at this very site a tougher, comprehensive personal conduct policy and domestic violence policy, there are so many more lessons to learn.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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