The NFL on Wednesday defended its controversial handling of the Kareem Hunt investigation, even though incriminating surveillance video of the star running back — footage that surfaced months after his skirmish with a woman in a Cleveland hotel — led to the Kansas City Chiefs releasing him.
“There is information out there in this surveillance society that we can’t get when we need it, and when we get it we act on it,” said B. Todd Jones, the league’s special counsel on conduct said at the December owners meetings, making his first public comments on the incident.
Hunt, the NFL’s defending rushing champion, was captured on video shoving and kicking a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel in February. Police were called but no arrests were made. The NFL and Chiefs contend they never saw that video until TMZ released it last month.
There were undeniable parallels between the Hunt situation and the Ray Rice controversy in 2014, when that Baltimore Ravens running back punched his fiancée in a hotel elevator, knocking her unconscious. The league was sharply criticized for being too lenient with Rice in its initial punishment of him, seeming to take the situation seriously only after the elevator video surfaced. The big question at the time: How hard did the NFL work to get hold of that footage?
“This was not the same situation in 2014, other than the fact there was a video that was disclosed late in the game,” said Jones, former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “We did learn lessons from 2014. We did request that video up front. We were aware that it was there and couldn’t get it. Somebody made the decision for monetary reasons to sell it to TMZ. That’s unfortunate.
“Once it was released, we reopened the investigation and it’s ongoing. There’s been no discipline imposed yet.”
As for why the NFL did not interview Hunt as part of its investigation, and has yet to do so, Jones said: “People in the business sort of understand that you don’t sit down with the suspect 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?’ So I think that the sequencing of the interviews was appropriate given the information we had at the time.”
While noting that the NFL does not have subpoena power to demand information, Jones said it’s “not likely at all” that the league will begin paying for video as part of these investigations.
“To become mercenary and pay for videos opens up a Pandora’s box of all kinds of opportunities, and things may come to us in the form of not just surveillance videos in public places, but you’re talking about the world of social media,” he said.
Echoed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “We obtained material that we have access to. We look to do that. But we’re not going to do it by corrupting people or trying to find a way to bribe us into giving us video. That’s not what we do.”
Beyond the borders
The league announced the five home teams for international games in 2019 — four games in London and one in Mexico City.
The Rams and Chargers are among the teams, along with Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. The league has not said which team will play in Mexico City, which was supposed to play host to last month’s Chiefs-Rams game before that matchup was moved because of poor field conditions.
Feeling a draft
Las Vegas will play host to the 2020 NFL draft, as the relocated Raiders put the finishing touches on their new stadium there.
“We’re totally excited,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “We believe the draft will be the kickoff to our inaugural season as the Las Vegas Raiders. All I can say now is, Las Vegas, the draft is coming.”
The 2019 draft will take place in Nashville, and the league is still working on the final details for that. So the details of the Las Vegas draft are pending, but the events surrounding the 2020 draft will take place on and around the Strip.
“The draft has grown to the point where hundreds of thousands of fans attend what is a three-day, free fan event,” said Peter O’Reilly, the league’s senior vice president of events. “So we’ll take advantage of some of the large spaces around the Strip, as well as some of the iconic locations that will provide an incredible backdrop for the draft, while highlighting the Raiders’ new stadium.”
Also in the running for the 2020 draft were Cleveland and Kansas City.
Level playing field
The NFL has made changes to the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a head coach or general manager.
The league is trying to avoid situations where teams follow the letter of the law but not the spirit, as when the Raiders set their sights on hiring Jon Gruden, and made it happen.
Under the adjusted rules, a club must interview at least one diverse candidate from a list compiled by the Career Development Advisory Panel, or one not currently employed by the club. That eliminates the end-around of a team simply interviewing someone from the current staff and checking that box.
Also, if the final decision maker — usually the owner — is involved at the beginning of the hiring process, he or she must be involved throughout the process. That should help with continuity and accountability.
Goodell will be more directly involved in enforcing the Rooney Rule going forward and has the ability to penalize clubs that don’t comply.
Game officials are still getting up to speed on the ban on players lowering their helmets to initiate contact, a rules change made during the offseason. There have been 15 such penalties called on the field, but more than 100 warning letters have been sent to players after the fact, according to Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee.
McKay said there’s “still quite a ramp-up” for players to consistently be in compliance with the new rules, and for officials to be able to spot infractions.
“We realized that [officials] just don’t get a lot of live reps and opportunities to see contact at full speed,” he said. “We just don’t do that in the offseason, we don’t do that in training camp. We really only do it in preseason games and regular-season games.”
He said he expects to see a significant uptick in such penalties next season.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer