Augustine: The NFL should stop placing success over women’s wellbeing

Kathryn Augustine, Op-Ed Contributor

In November of 2018, TMZ Sports released graphic surveillance video of then-Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt shoving a 19-year-old woman, Abigail Ottinger, in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel. Problematic yet predictable, Hunt was neither charged nor arrested the night of the incident.

Upon the footage’s release, Hunt was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List by the NFL and, as a result, was banned from practicing with the Chiefs. On Nov. 30, the Chiefs then bluntly announced in a statement that “Kareem was not truthful in those discussions” with their management team when the incident initially occurred. The fact that the team let Hunt go — albeit months too late given that they knew of the incident earlier and did not investigate further — was a small step forward in holding men accountable for their actions, regardless of their immense wealth and fame.

That step forward was overridden by a large stride back on Feb. 11, when the Cleveland Browns offered Hunt a one-year contract reportedly worth more than $1 million.

Browns general manager John Dorsey defended signing Hunt with the fact that he was remorseful, saying, “If you talked to anybody who’s been in the locker room with Kareem Hunt, they’ll tell you he was a really good teammate.” This implies that just because Hunt was a solid teammate and apologetic — apologetic out of obligation — his past actions can be erased.

Hunt’s violent assault of Ottinger is indisputable. There is video evidence plastered all over the Internet that anyone can freely access. Yet, he was rewarded with a second chance to press restart and earn a sum of money the average American will not earn in an entire lifetime. While Hunt’s case is currently under investigation by the NFL, given the NFL’s track record, at worst he will likely only sacrifice pay for a handful of games.

Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest the mistreatment of minorities within the United States cost him his NFL career and caused blatant character assassination. Meanwhile, Hunt, who was filmed assaulting a woman and was linked to other violent incidents, remains a part of the league, and many are willing to simply overlook his past actions. This begs the question: Why is non-violent protest judged as a more serious offense than the abuse of women? By giving the Hunt the privilege of a clean slate, the NFL is implicitly answering that the safety of women is secondary to success on the field. Hunt’s talent and what he can bring to the Browns outweighs treating women humanely.

A Browns’ tight end, David Njoku, said he “is really excited” that he can now call Hunt a teammate, and, frankly, that is disturbing. And Njoku is not alone. Dez Bryant, a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, went as far as to share his support for Hunt through Instagram because “nobody is perfect.” The prioritization of the success of a team over a teammate’s personal characteristics is ingrained in the world of professional athletics.

The children and young adults — especially boys — who revere NFL players like they are superhuman will see that Hunt is given a second chance after less than a year without repentance. They will see the immense support from Hunt’s new teammates, like Njoku. And most significantly, they will absorb the message that the rights of women — their safety, their physical health, their mental health — will always be an afterthought to powerful corporations like the NFL.

While the NFL’s arrest rate is 13 percent relative to the national average for men ages 25 to 29, its domestic violence arrest rate is 55.4 percent and its non-domestic assault arrest rate is 16.7 percent, according to a 2014 FiveThirtyEight study. The study also found that assault is the second-most common cause for arrest among NFL players. Given that the punishment for a first time instance of assault, according to the NFL Personal Conduct Policy, is a “baseline suspension without pay of six games,” perhaps it’s not surprising that we continue to see players act violently without concern for their victims or the punishments they will face.

Simply stated, Hunt should not have been signed to the Browns. What he decided to do to Ottinger was no mistake or a misunderstanding. Rather, his violent actions were intentional and reprehensible. In order to cultivate a culture in which women do not need to fear being abused by the hands of a man, we need to hold men, especially those who are in the public eye like Hunt is, accountable.

While it’s valid to care about how your team performs in order to make money, that should never come at the cost of a woman’s wellbeing. Instead of handing out second chances freely, we need to actually punish members of the NFL who mistreat women. The next generation of boys who idolize these players should grow up receiving the message that violence toward women is not something that will be tolerated, ever.

Kathryn Augustine is a Medill first-year. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.