The NFL's 'willful ignorance,' and how it botched the Kareem Hunt case

Hunt addresses TMZ video, being released by Chiefs (5:55)

Former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt addresses the TMZ video that shows him shoving and kicking a woman in February. (5:55)

Kareem Hunt apologized to the world, the Kansas City Chiefs organization, his family and his close friends before he finally got around to apologizing to the young woman he shoved and kicked in February -- more than seven minutes into Sunday's interview with ESPN's Lisa Salters. But just as telling about the assault that ultimately cost Hunt his job was his confirmation that the league had never interviewed him about it.

When it comes to the NFL and violence against women, the question clearly isn't, "What did they know and when did they know it?"

It's more like, "What did they want to know and when did they decide they had no choice but to know more?"

Hunt talked to the Chiefs after the assault outside his Cleveland hotel residence, and the Chiefs then talked to the league, and then Hunt was free to play 11 games and to help his team emerge as a Super Bowl contender. NFL officials accepted a version of events first supplied by a star running back invested in protecting his career, and then passed along by a team invested in keeping said difference-maker on the field, as part of yet another investigation and decision exposed as disturbing, revealing and woefully inadequate by a video aired on TMZ.

"It should surprise me, but it doesn't," said Kathy Redmond, who founded the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes more than 20 years ago. "These are non-investigations. It goes back to willful ignorance, and arrogance and hubris on the part of the NFL. It feels like everything the NFL does is on the surface, and to address PR and the brand they have to protect."

Yes, the NFL says it did try (and fail) to obtain the video from Cleveland police and the hotel, and did try (and fail) to interview the victim it described in a Sunday statement as a "complainant." That statement said the league's "ongoing" investigation will include more attempts to interview "the complainants involved in the incident. It will include a review of the new information that was made public on Friday -- which was not available to the NFL previously -- as well as further conversations with all parties involved in the incident."

Those "further conversations" are sure to involve Hunt, who, of course, didn't have an initial conversation with league investigators. Though the NFL did go hard after Ezekiel Elliott on domestic violence allegations and did hit the Dallas running back last year with a six-game suspension, the absence of a relentless investigation of Hunt shouldn't come as any shock.

This is from Robert Mueller's report on the NFL's botched investigation into Ray Rice's assault on his then-fiancée inside an elevator at the Revel, an Atlantic City casino:

"Our investigation identified a number of investigative steps that the League did not take to acquire additional information about what occurred inside the elevator. League investigators did not contact any of the police officers who investigated the incident, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, or the Revel to attempt to obtain or view the in-elevator video or to obtain other information. No one from the League asked Rice or his lawyer whether they would make available for viewing the in-elevator video they received as part of criminal discovery in early April. And, after the initial contacts with the Ravens in the immediate aftermath of the incident, League investigators did not follow up with the Ravens to determine whether the team had additional information."

That report was dated Jan. 8, 2015. Nearly four years later, with Mueller a bit tied up at the moment, it sure would be interesting to see what an independent review of the Hunt "investigation" would turn up.

Understand this: By making multiple attempts to speak with witnesses and to secure the video from hotel officials and law enforcement -- even after Cleveland police decided they wouldn't file charges against Hunt -- the league believes it has been more aggressive in the Hunt case than it was in the Rice case, a low standard indeed. An NFL spokesman declined comment when emailed this question: "Why didn't the league interview Kareem Hunt after the alleged assault?" A person with knowledge of the case said investigators always prefer to speak with the victim of an alleged crime before they speak with the alleged perpetrator, and that the woman's refusal to respond to the league's requests for an interview scuttled the plan to interview Hunt.

No, that explanation isn't nearly good enough, especially since Hunt was accused of punching a man in June. And even after Hunt lied to the Chiefs about the February incident, the NFL should've seen a relatively easy path to the principal facts.

Over the years the league has employed former police officers, federal agents and prosecutors with decades of experience. In the wake of the Rice case, commissioner Roger Goodell hired Lisa Friel, the former chief of the Manhattan District Attorney's sex crimes unit. These are people who have contacts all over creation and who know how to acquire information -- on the record and off -- from all kinds of sources. So even when a police department or hotel refuses to turn over a video showing a man being violent with a woman, seasoned investigators have ways of discovering the critical contents of that video. The questions to ask are obvious:

How bad does it look? Does he make physical contact with her? What kind of physical contact? Is this a man who needs to be punished?

One private investigator with more than four decades of experience, including cases involving athletes, said Sunday that it is "preposterous" to think a company as powerful as the NFL couldn't discover more about the Hunt video and his actions that night. The league appears far too willing to accept "no" as an answer in matters that demand an unyielding pursuit of the facts. Two years ago, after the NFL claimed the King County (Washington) sheriff's office refused to provide information on Giants kicker Josh Brown's abuse of his wife, the sheriff told Seattle radio station KIRO-FM that the league never formally requested the records, and that even if he couldn't release the records, he would've been helpful to an investigator who properly identified his or her affiliation, "since it's the NFL."

If any law enforcement officials were helpful to the NFL in the Hunt case, apparently they weren't helpful enough. As soon as the video aired Friday, the Chiefs knew they had to release Hunt. Of course, they waited until the running back was placed on Goodell's exempt list, ensuring that he wouldn't score a few touchdowns against them as a member of somebody else's team.

"I want to give the Chiefs a bit of credit, because they didn't technically have to cut him," Redmond said. "But that delay in releasing him says what we've known for years -- that winning is always the most important thing."

Redmond reminded that Saturday was the sixth anniversary of the death of Kasandra Perkins, who was slain by the Chiefs' Jovan Belcher before the linebacker took his own life. Redmond also reminded that the Chiefs declared where they really stood on domestic violence in 2016, when they drafted Tyreek Hill, who had pleaded guilty in 2015 to punching and strangling his pregnant girlfriend while he attended Oklahoma State.


Ponder: Hunt knew exactly what he did

Sam Ponder says Kareem Hunt's claim that his actions don't truly reflect the kind of person he is should be taken with a grain of salt.

"Had the Chiefs drawn a hard line with Hunt in February, or when they drafted Tyreek Hill," Redmond said, "maybe we're not here in this situation now. But when you keep pushing the problem away, and you keep kicking the can down the road, this is what you're going to end up with."

Redmond has consulted Division I college programs, Major League Baseball teams and the New England Patriots, who invited her a couple of years ago to address incoming rookies. But it seems the problems and the cases continue to repeat themselves. It's disheartening, she said, when Hunt is added to an ever-growing roster of NFL players accused of abuse while the band simply plays on.

"Fans are culpable in this as well," she said. "If they wanted something different, they'd demand it. But we move on, and the NFL likes that we do, because the games provide an escape. We can't escape anymore. We have to confront this."

So, finally, does Roger Goodell and his $14 billion industry. The NFL has to start seeking the truth. Not the most benign and convenient truth.