Miami Dolphins Prove Even When NFL Gets It Right on Domestic Violence, Still Gets It Wrong
via NFL's Hard Knocks
Even when an NFL team manages to get it right by punishing a player accused of domestic violence immediately, it's probably by accident.
Back in 2012, Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson was arrested on domestic violence charges for head-butting his then-wife Evelyn Lozada. Less than 24 hours later he was cut from the Miami Dolphins and never played for an NFL team again.
At the time the team was being filmed for the NFL's Hard Knocks, and the cameras chronicled the Fins' decision to let Johnson go. In light of the Ray Rice scandal, it gives an eerie view into how clumsy the NFL culture can be when it comes to concern for domestic violence.
The nearly seven-minute segment that covers the time from when head coach Joe Philbin found out about the incident until his face-to-face discussion that resulted in Johnson being let go is available to view in full on NFL.com.
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In the clip, Philbin only refers to Johnson's assault as an "incident," "situation," and "this thing," and only seems concerned about "this thing" as just the latest in a string of previously less serious incidents.
When the Dolphins' head of security informs Philbin that Johnson seemed noticeably upset on a phone call, Philbin surmises that it's because he thinks he's about to get fired, not because, you know, he just assaulted his wife of just over a month.
When Philbin sits down with Johnson to let him go, he goes to great lengths that he's not firing him just because of the incident or to "make an example," but rather because he's just decided Johnson isn't a good fit for the team.
At no time does anyone show any concern for Lozada.
Granted, domestic violence can be a difficult topic to discuss, and we're only seeing a relatively small sample of the Fins internal discussion.
The disturbing thing though is that Hard Knocks is produced by NFL Films. It was rushed out to viewers, with these scenes airing on HBO just two days after they happened.
The take-away presented was that the Miami Dolphins and NFL at large don't really care about domestic violence on its own, but rather when it's that latest in a string of things they consider "distractions."
Johnson was fired not for leaving his wife bruised and disoriented, but because he just wasn't a good fit for the team.
One has to wonder whether Johnson might not have been fired if he hadn't been a distraction in other ways. Though the incidents pre-date Philbin's hiring, the Dolphins history indicated he would not have been.
Just two years earlier during the 2010 offseason, two Dolphins players were arrested for domestic violence. Philip Merling was suspected of punching his then-pregnant girlfriend. And Tony McDaniel pushed his girlfriend to the sidewalk. Neither was released by the team, and only McDaniel was punished by the NFL -- a one-game suspension.
Until the Ray Rice scandal, this is the message the NFL was sending about domestic violence: Be an otherwise good player, and we'll look the other way if we can. Be a problematic player, and we'll just use it as a convenient excuse to get rid of you.
This was a message sent directly by the NFL's own Emmy-winning reality television program.
Lozada, notably, filed for divorce shortly after the incident.
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