When the NFL was first exposed for its backward approach to treating abusive men in 2014, the league claimed ignorance. How could they have known there would be video of Ray Rice punching then-girlfriend Janay Palmer in a casino elevator?
They could have known - it didn't take a genius to see that Atlantic City was just one big CCTV backdrop.
Thing is, you can only claim ignorance once.
After another video featuring Kareem Hunt assaulting a woman in a Cleveland hotel was procured by TMZ, the NFL will have to find a different excuse. The Chiefs released Hunt after the video came out, and Hunt revealed in a sit-down with ESPN's Lisa Salters that neither he nor the woman he assaulted was interviewed by the NFL.
No alleged victim is ever required to sit down with the NFL, but there are other ways to hear her side of the story, such as the 911 call. And that's not the case with any league employee - he is required to talk. Had the NFL been able to compare an interview with Hunt against the lies he told the team, his deception might have been revealed earlier.
In the Salters interview, Hunt repeatedly distanced himself from the violence, saying he's "not that type of person," constructing, through his words, a third party who perpetrated the violence. "That's not me," he told her.
Sure looks like you, buddy.
This cognitive dissonance, Chiefs quarterback and friend Patrick Mahomes echoed it with "we don't do those types of things" as reported by the Kansas City Star, is problematic. Hunt is that kind of person; he did those types of things. That no one in the NFL or on the Chiefs sat this man down and confronted him with the reality of his own behavior is unreal four years after Rice's case made clear: Let's go to the videotape.
The NFL attempted to get the tape, which is more than the Cleveland Police Department did, but the NFL doesn't pay for evidence and couldn't afford anonymity to a seller the way TMZ can as a media outlet. But this again proves that it's assaults caught on video that make the difference in the way the public perceives the league.
The great majority of the NFL players I've covered over the years are the kind of caring men I'd have trusted to watch my toddlers. But there is an underlying cultural problem here, and it has to do with the way women are viewed in a sport that idolizes masculinity.
Because what Rice really revealed was, as much as the NFL had a problem with holding abusers accountable, it didn't really treat women all that well. Cheerleaders were underpaid, and there were few women in roles of authority on teams throughout the league and in the front office.
The league scrambled. There was training and awareness and press releases. There were earnest conversations about who is allowed to be in the room when discipline is discussed. The NFL launched a women's summit, and has made strides to hire more women across the board. Women are coming in at every level; it is slow, but it is sustained and intentional change.
The NFL Player's Association started a high-profile task force but one of those experts, Deborah Epstein, a law professor and co-director of the Georgetown University Law Center's Domestic Violence Clinic, quit in frustration after recommendations were enthusiastically received but failed to be implemented. Sometimes the appearance of change is great P.R. but real evolution is too uncomfortable.
So why does the league keep making the same mistakes?
One issue is that it doesn't count all male on female violence as domestic violence. It's different to be sure, but it is also violence against women. With Hunt and Bengals running back Joe Mixon, another TMZ video star in college, the violent assaults were an outsized reaction to the conflict. Although not domestic violence, both men used their size and power against a woman in a moment of anger. It's a type of gender-based assault even though assailant and victim are not in a romantic relationship.
More truth. In the incidents I've covered, the off-the-record conversation often includes victim smearing. I've heard women initially called "crazy," or are accused of being more violent than her assailant - until more of the facts come out to show they were credible after all. Some NFL officials were far happier to speculate about Molly Brown than her then-husband and Giants kicker Josh Brown, until a diary emerged that confirmed her assertions that he abused her.
There have been false accusations against players, and these are rare, damaging and should be legally prosecuted. However, what concerns me is the overall view of women that many in the league hold - that most women are predatory, unscrupulous and greedy.
Thus when a woman claims that a player or NFL employee has assaulted her, she still has to overcome the assumptions about her gender before, in the case of Hunt's assault, anyone bothers to watch the video or challenge the accused's account face to face. She was not heard by law enforcement before the NFL even began its investigation.
Until this cultural shift, some players will take the field while evidence remains uncollected, as was the case with Hunt.
But it's not just within the NFL. As one person engaged in the anti-violence education of NFL players said, this isn't happening in a vacuum. In the larger cultural context you have a lot of backsliding. For example, the Trump administration exaggerated the effect of CNN reporter Jim Acosta's incidental contact with a female intern while the president lauded then-candidate Greg Gianforte's alleged body slam of a reporter. It's the appearance of caring about violence against women while at the same time applauding actual violence. We've had two years to witness Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal as they were smeared even as their claims against Donald Trump have not been significantly undermined.
So even as the NFL has had four years to try to correct the errors made in the Rice investigation, on a larger scale, many of the cultural assumptions about women have been regurgitated and amplified. The #MeToo movement provides a counter-argument, but we are still getting clear messages about protecting men in power from women at the highest level.
Women watch the NFL, too, and it's hard to ignore when the NFL's policy actually incentivizes teams like Washington to pick up a player with multiple accusations in Reuben Foster. He's cheap! Nobody'll remember come playoffs next year! And discourages other women from coming forward.
Hunt cleared waivers Monday, but according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network several teams considered picking up Hunt, because that's just part of the ghoulish process.
Of the 32 teams in the league, not all are on board with these NFL investigations. Party bus-riding Dallas owner Jerry Jones fought with the league over Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension, after hiring Greg Hardy in 2015 when the Panthers discarded him. If Hardy, who was convicted in a bench trial of assaulting a girlfriend, hadn't been such a disaster that season he might still be on the team.
The NFL is trying to do too much here. The front office can't control the owners because that's not how the chain of command works. It needs to cede some of the disciplinary authority to an independent arbiter. The NFL Player's Association should get on board because these incidents reflect poorly on players who don't deserve that stain.
The NFL has made strides in so many ways, but cheap mistakes like this undermine that progress. It can't afford to keep making them.