NFL Comissioner Roger Goodell at the draft. (Courtesy/Creative Commons)
The NFL has a major domestic violence problem. Ever since Ray Rice was charged with assaulting his fiancee in 2014, domestic violence issues have plagued the league. The NFL tried to take a harder stance on domestic violence in recent years, but the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way.
The 2017 NFL Draft this weekend exposed just how little progress has been made.
Back in 1996, the New England Patriots drafted defensive tackle Christian Peter, who was accused of sexual assault along with a litany of other legal charges. Myra Kraft, wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, expressed her displeasure for the draft pick. Kraft heeded his wife’s advice, performed an extensive investigation, and eventually cut Peter from the team. This was a shining example of an NFL team taking a stand against domestic violence.
Over 20 years later at the 2017 NFL Draft, little progress has been made. NFL teams are too comfortable taking risks on players with glaring character concerns.
Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, widely thought to be one of the most talented runners in this year’s draft class, was caught on video knocking out a fellow student two years ago. This disgusting video, similar to the one released a few years ago involving Ray Rice, should have caused Mixon to plummet down draft boards. Instead, he was picked in the second round. The Cincinnati Bengals, the team that drafted him (and my personal favorite team), lauded Mixon’s ability as a football player and chose to overlook is prior misconduct.
Mixon isn’t alone in this draft. There were a multitude of prospects accused of similar crimes who ended up being drafted. Dede Westbrook, Mixon’s teammate at Oklahoma, was picked in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Westbrook has multiple accusations of violence against the mother of his children. When asked about Westbrook’s checkered past, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell said, “The charges were dropped. There were no charges, never evolved into anything—2013 was the last one, so we felt like that stuff was behind him.” It is actually quite common for victims to not see through their accusations. Caldwell’s quote, diminishing Westbrook’s off the field concerns, was one of the most tone-deaf lines of the draft. Yet it is emblematic of the league’s continuing ignorance towards domestic violence.
It is incredibly troubling that violence against women is being normalized in the NFL.
Ray Rice was supposed to be an example of how a career can end when a player commits domestic violence. But this weekend’s draft shows how teams are willing to help start the careers of players abusing women.
It is unacceptable that players can commit these crimes and proceed with their careers as normal. It is up to the teams to draw a hard line and send the message that these kinds of transgressions against women are not permissible, whether or not you are a football player.