IRVING, Texas — After more than a week of criticism over its handling of an investigation of another player caught on video assaulting a woman, the NFL on Wednesday doubled down on its policy of refusing to pay for footage or other evidence when investigating off-field conduct.
In response to a question at a meeting of league owners about the recent case involving former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s top disciplinary officer said that the league did not want to buy surveillance videos from public places or residences because it could prompt people to try to take compromising videos of players or officials with the intent of selling it to the NFL, or to try to sell doctored videos.
“To become mercenary and pay for video opens up a Pandora’s box of all kinds of opportunities and things that may come to us,” said the officer, B. Todd Jones, the NFL’s special counsel for conduct.
Jones’ comments were the first from a league official since The New York Times reported Friday that league officials had questioned Hunt this fall about an altercation at an Ohio resort that occurred in June but neglected to ask him about an apparent assault of a woman that happened in February.
Late last month, entertainment news website TMZ published video of Hunt shoving and kicking the young woman, who was 19 at the time, in an upscale hotel and residence in Cleveland.
The release of the video again put the NFL on the defensive over its handling of cases involving players accused of assault and domestic abuse, and it provided another reminder of the limits of the league’s investigatory powers and its failures in policing its players’ off-field conduct.
The league has pointed to its inability to obtain the video of Hunt attacking the woman as the reason it was delayed in deciding whether to suspend him.
There was, however, other evidence available — though the video was the most damning piece. The Cleveland Police Department’s report of the confrontation included many details of the events that day in February, and video of the police interviewing some of the witnesses was also publicly available. Some witnesses, though not the victims, also spoke to the league’s investigators.
Jones, though, said that the league had wanted to collect as much information as possible before interviewing Hunt about the February incident.
“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,” Jones said, “because you have to ask some intelligent questions of them beyond ‘Were you there?’ or ‘Did you do anything?’ The sequencing of the interviews was appropriate given the level of info we had at the time.”
During its investigation of the February episode, the league asked for surveillance video but was told that the hotel would release it only to law enforcement agencies. The Cleveland Police Department never sought the video because the episode was deemed not serious enough.
While it is unclear how TMZ obtained the video of Hunt’s attack, the league cited its policy of not paying for such evidence as the reason it was unable do the same.
“I don’t think it’s lost on anyone here that our investigative capacity is limited, and I think you saw an example of that last week when a private entity, TMZ, released their video that we could not get,” Jones said.
TMZ has not responded to requests for comment on how it got the video.
After TMZ published the footage, the league placed Hunt on its commissioner’s exempt list, forbidding him from playing and practicing. Soon after, the Chiefs released him. The league is now using the video as part of its investigation.
Jones and Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, who is chairman of the league’s conduct committee, repeated several times that the NFL can only do so much because it does not have subpoena power and cannot arrest anyone.
Still, the league said it would not outsource its investigations.
“From our standpoint, we have to continue to go out there and do all the things that are normally done in an investigation,” Bidwill said. “We can only do as best we can.”
Jeffrey Pash, the league’s top lawyer, said that episodes like those involving Hunt are becoming less frequent. Pash said the league was on pace to have the fewest off-field conduct instances since 2000, when it began keeping such records.
In 2008, there were 80 incidents involving players that resulted in arrests, according to the league. That number fell to 68 in 2014, the year before the league strengthened its investigative protocols after the suspension of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was caught on video punching his then-fiancée in a hotel elevator.
Last year, there were 49 incidents in which players were arrested. So far this year, there have been 36.
Draft Is Headed for Vegas
The NFL said that the 2020 draft would be held in Las Vegas to promote the arrival of the Raiders after the 2019 season. The stadium the Raiders are building near the Strip will not be completed by then, but some events may be held on the grounds.
The Raiders, though, are dealing with some challenges in the near term. On Tuesday, the city of Oakland sued the NFL and the team. Citing federal antitrust law and a breach of its contract with the team, the city wants to recover damages including lost revenue, money that Oakland taxpayers invested in the Raiders and other costs.
It is unclear where the Raiders will play next season. The team’s lease at the Oakland Coliseum will expire after this season, and the team and city have not agreed on a one-year extension. The Raiders said they offered the city $7.5 million in rent to play in the Coliseum next season, but that offer has been withdrawn.
Owner Mark Davis has said he wants to play in Oakland next year, but with the lawsuit pending, he is now looking at other sites.
“Emotionally, I don’t want to pay for my own lawsuit,” Davis said, referring to the rent for the stadium being used by the city to pay for its lawsuit against the team. “For the fans, it’s something else.”