By: Tyler Reynolds
The official start of the NFL Year 2018 was March 14th. Since that day, twenty-two players have been involved in some sort of legal trouble. Two of these incidents were considered acts of domestic violence. Cayleb Jones, Wide Receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, was charged with assaulting his girlfriend and smacking her cell phone from her hands as she attempted to call the police. Reuben Foster, former Linebacker of the San Francisco 49ers and now for the Washington Redskins, has been arrested three times in the calendar year of 2018. Once for the possession of marijuana and twice for domestic assaults (50% of all NFL domestic incidents for this year).
According to the USA Today database of NFL player arrests, 111 domestic violence incidents occurred where the player was accused, arrested, or charged with a crime since they began tracking these statistics in January 2000. Coincidentally, two of the first four crimes reported were for domestic violence where both Rod Smith and Steve Foley were accused of grabbing their respective wives’ throats in a manner that would cause an obstructed airway. In case you are curious, the two cases between those incidents were the Ray Lewis case (accused of murder) and the Fred Lane Case (possession of marijuana and a gun). Fred Lane’s wife shot and killed him later that year in a supposed act of voluntary manslaughter where her defense was alleged to be a long history of abuse at the hands of Fred Lane.
The phenomenon of NFL players committing acts of domestic violence is not new. The Ray Rice punch seen around the world is perhaps the most recognizable and most highly publicized. That year (2014) there were four other domestic violence incidents. The problem is seemingly increasing in frequency if the news reports are to believed, however the numbers show that since 2008 the average number of domestic violence incidents has decreased from 7 per year (2000-2008) to 5 per year (2009-present). That is about 12% of all crimes committed by NFL athletes.
Obviously, the number should be zero domestic violence incidents per year but the average NFL player is still less likely than an average American male to commit the crime. The same goes for other crimes such as Driving Under the Influence and possession of illegal drugs. The difference being that they are seen as public figures and negative actions by our star athletes are always more heavily scrutinized.
Even incidents that are not technically domestic violence, such as the Kareem Hunt assault, are being reported on with with the full force of the 24-hour news cycle. The Kansas City running back was accused of pushing and kicking a female while a group of people were at a hotel room together. Many reports, such as the article written by Josh Peter for USA Today, delve deeply into the home life and family history of Kareem. Hunt’s father was discovered to also have an extensive criminal history. This, I believe, to point to a possible root cause of the domestic violence plaguing the image of the National Football League.
Many athletes, such as Kareem Hunt, are victims themselves. A childhood riddled with uncertainty where the father has little or no positive impact on their life. A father that showed a history of domestic violence themselves. Unfortunately, if you grow up without a positive male role model as a young boy a life of hardship usually follows. Kareem was fortunate enough to be a gifted athlete, just like his father before him. He, however, was able to work past the circumstances of his family history and surrounding negative influences. Hunt was able to be one of the less than 2,000 men able to make an active roster and start for a professional football team. As many players soon learn, fame and fortune do not sweep away the past. The unfortunate circumstances of his upbringing are not to be seen as an excuse, merely a possible cause for the incident.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has also been shown to leave lasting effects on football players. CTE is a degenerative brain disease found in subjects with a history of repetitive brain trauma. According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, early symptoms of CTE usually appear in a patient’s late 20s or 30s, and affect a patient’s mood and behavior. Some common changes seen include impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and paranoia. Again, this is not to excuse the actions of the players committing crimes of domestic violence. What these facts do is show how the patterns of dangerous and impulsive behaviors, such as DUI or assaults, may be linked to something not entirely within the athletes control.
Everyone seemingly wants to hang these athletes out to dry. Many of them come from the worst sort of home environments or neighborhoods that a lot of Americans can imagine. While they are adults and must answer for their actions, it is clear that sporting culture as a whole needs to make changes from Pop Warner on up.
The current steps being taken by the NFL seem too reactionary and disingenuous. The problem of domestic violence seemed to only be addressed by Roger Goodell when it threatened the leagues revenue. Concussion protocol and CTE research were only pushed forward after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the hundreds of former players suffering from concussion related injuries. The lawsuit that certainly doesn’t include former high school and college stars that may possibly be suffering as well but never made it to the top.
I personally do not have all the answers but the only way forward is through more research on brain trauma and more education for athletes. The problems might not be linked in the end, but you can’t deny the correlation.
(Roger Goodell Photo Source; LM Otero, AP)
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