Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: NFL Teams Still Tone-Deaf to Domestic Abuse

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJune 29, 2016

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Greg Hardy #76 of the Dallas Cowboys looks on against the Miami Dolphins during the game at Sun Life Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Dallas defeated Miami 24-14. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The NFL has struggled when it comes to its players and violence against women. Well, here we go again...

1. The NFL Still Doesn't Get It

The NFL said it learned. It said it over and over again when it came to accusations of violence against women by its players. 

The league said sexual assault wouldn't be tolerated after Ben Roethlisberger was twice accused of it.

We've learned, teams said. Won't be tolerated, the league claimed.

There was Jameis Winston, accused of sexual assault before becoming the No. 1 pick in 2015. There was Richie Incognito, accused of rubbing a woman's private parts with a golf club. There was Brandon Marshall.

We get it, teams said. We will change, commissioner Roger Goodell claimed.

There was Ray McDonald, accused of rape and domestic assault. There was Pacman Jones.

There was Johnny Manziel, accused of hitting his girlfriend. There was Terrell Suggs. His wife twice filed for protective orders against him. There was Robert Sands, accused of choking his wife when she was pregnant.

Trust us, the NFL said. We will change. We promise.

There was Dez Bryant, accused of assaulting his own mom. There was Greg Hardy, who got a job in Dallas after a conviction by a judge for a vicious attack against his ex-girlfriend. (The case was dismissed on appeal after the accuser could not be found for trial.)

There was Ray Rice. And the elevator. And the knockout blow.

The final straw, the NFL said. We have learned, teams said. They said it over and over and over.

Between Jan. 1, 2012, and Sept. 17, 2014, there were 15 players arrested for violence against women, according to Sports Illustrated. Teams said that would change.

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

On and on and on it has gone.

So, here we are, in 2016, after years of promises that tolerance for abusers of women would go the way of the dinosaur, and yet another team has signed a player accused of violence against a woman.

The New York Post's Matt Schneidman wrote a story on Roger Lewis, who is trying to make the Giants. In high school, Lewis was accused of raping a woman twice. The jury acquitted him on the first charge but deadlocked on the second.

As another jury trial approached, Lewis decided to plead guilty to providing false information to police.

Lewis is not a big name. He wasn't drafted, but he's been allowed to try out for an NFL roster. The question is why?

Actually, my bad, I know the answer to that question: because he's talented.

Not sure about you, but most people don't get accused of rape once, let alone two counts.

My guess is, now that more attention is being paid to the Giants giving him a chance, he won't make the roster. I could be wrong, but that's my guess.

The larger issue is: Why did he even get a chance to try to make it?

Why do teams still feel the need to sign every damn body? Why not just let some guys go work elsewhere? Why do teams still say they get it, when they are clearly lying to us?

They don't get it because they don't want to get it. I know the NFL will donate $10 million to groups that fight domestic violence, and that's a good thing. But when teams invite twice-accused rapists to camp, it undermines anything the league office does.

Lewis is a symptom of that larger issue. Maybe the league office gets it, but what we are seeing, mostly, is business as usual in football when it comes to how its players treat women.

Roethlisberger, Hardy, Pacman, McDonald, Incognito, Bryant and a legion of others. After each one, we were told teams had learned. We were told the NFL had learned.

It didn't. I'm not sure it ever will.

2. Players Staying out of the News for the Right Reasons

Feb 4, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith during the NFLPA press conference at Moscone Center in advance of Super Bowl 50 between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sport
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Teams may still be taking risks on players they shouldn't, but, for the moment at least, players themselves are avoiding trouble.

As Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported, player arrests this offseason are down. Florio wrote:

There have been nine player arrests since January 1. Last year, there were 13 in the first half of the year. Two years ago, there were 21. In 2013, the number was 29. 

It’s not just an offseason phenomenon. At one point last season, more than two months passed between arrests of any of the roughly 2,000 players on rosters or practice squads.

So while individual teams continue to screw up how they address players with violent pasts against women, some players are figuring out how to stay out of the police blotter. This is a good thing.

Hopefully it lasts.

3. Merton Hanks: 'It Was Time for a New Challenge'

Alison Yin/Associated Press

One of the best safeties I ever saw was Merton Hanks. He was smart, quick and studious. He was also part of the best defensive backfield in NFL history that featured him at free safety, Tim McDonald at strong safety, Eric Davis at one corner and Deion Sanders at the other. All for the 49ers.

He'd later go on to become a good executive with the league office...until recently. Hanks just joined Conference USA as the commissioner in charge of football and baseball. He'll do well there because he does well at everything he does.

The big question is why did he leave the NFL for a college job? The answer, as he said in an interview with B/R, was just a different challenge.

"Where can I contribute in a meaningful way?" he said, "and have an impact." Hanks decided college was that place.

My guess is that Hanks runs Conference USA for several years and then returns to the NFL to become a general manager, maybe even in San Francisco.

Interestingly enough, Hanks told me he had discussions about possibly joining the 49ers, but those conversations didn't lead to a position.

At least not now. But Hanks likely won't be out of the NFL for too long.

4. Andrew Luck About to Cash in Like No One Else

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 08:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates after the 27-24 win over the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Several team-personnel men said in interviews they believe Andrew Luck's deal will get done this week. In truth, who knows when it will get done? What's certain is that Luck will get more money than any NFL player ever has. How much?

Enough to top the $22 million per season the two highest-paid QBs in the league, Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers, earn. One team executive said Luck will have "more money than Britain." Yes, that's a Brexit joke.

5. Aaron Rodgers Has the Look

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on before taking on the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Har
Harry How/Getty Images

From a Packers offensive player: "Aaron is as dedicated as I've ever seen him. He's always dedicated but even more now. I think he's going to have a career year."

It appears Rodgers heard some of the talk throughout last season that he's taken a step back. This season, expect to see vintage Rodgers.

6. Could Nate Robinson Be the NFL's Next Great Story?

LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 17:  Nate Robinson #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball against the Sacramento Kings during a preseason game on October 17, 2015 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Former NBA player Nate Robinson is trying to make it in the NFL. It would be an awesome story, but it will never happen. Pete Carroll has already said this. Now, an assistant coach is saying the same.

Two main problems, the coach says. First, there's no natural position for Robinson.

"Maybe running back," the coach said, "but that's questionable. He can't play wide receiver. He can't play quarterback. He can't play defensive back. Maybe kick returner, maybe. But I'm not certain where he plays."

The other problem, the coach explained, is Robinson's age. He's 32 years old. Of course, it's not unprecedented for a player in his early 30s to do well in the NFL. But it is unprecedented in NFL history for a player who has never played in the NFL before, with no natural position, in his 30s, to make it.

7. Al-Jazeera Investigation Continues

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 08:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers walks onto the field before the start of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field on November 8, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Ima
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The response of Steelers linebacker James Harrison to the NFL's request to interview him about the Al-Jazeera investigation into players who may have used performance-enhancing drugs was indeed amusing. But there's one thing that's not funny.

I continue to hear from various NFL sources that the league's investigation into the report is dead serious. It's not a PR stunt. It's not half-assed. It's real.

This isn't to say that anything will come of it. But based on numerous interviews, it's clear this investigation isn't just ongoing, it's serious.

The union (and maybe rightfully so) is fighting the NFL on this issue. Team union sources tell B/R they don't believe the NFL has enough proof to conduct a genuine investigation. More than a few times I heard the word "Deflategate" referring to the NFL's flawed probe into how Tom Brady handled his footballs.

This story is getting interesting, and it's just beginning.

8. Some People Are Just Idiots

Colin Kaepernick handled this like a champ.

If Kaepernick had walked away from the clowns, he would have been called a snob. If he had told them to leave him alone, he would have been called a thug. He was in an impossible position, and he found that one sweet spot he had to inhabit. Well done by him.

9. Dire Times for Johnny Football

Scott Eklund/Associated Press

People continue to worry Johnny Manziel will be dead soon

That's the best way for me to say it. I don't know any other way.

One former teammate told me this week, bluntly, he expects to get a news alert on his phone one day saying Manziel had died. That is where we are right now.

10. Change in Rookie Program Working

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  (L-R) Jared Goff of the California Golden Bears holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #1 overall by the Los Angeles Rams during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of
Jon Durr/Getty Images

This story from the Boston Globe's Ben Volin gives a good summation of the changes the NFL made to the rookie program. Agents say the programs are much more thorough and, perhaps most important, the players are paying more attention.

In the larger sessions—and I know for a fact because I saw itsome players used the meeting time to sleep. In smaller, team groups, that's harder to do. Not impossible, but more difficult. Overall, the change the NFL made was smart.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL.


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