Two steps forward, three steps back: NFL teams choose talent over troubled pasts

By Hannah Beery

Despite the NFL’s efforts to clean up its image, the 2015 draft revealed a troubling trend as teams continued to select players with allegedly violent pasts.

More troubling, however, said domestic violence experts and observers, was that the extensive vetting process employed by prospective teams failed to include the alleged victims of three high-profile draft picks.

“There are ramifications when you take on this kind of risk and they darn well should have been aware of everything that would go with it,” said columnist Gary Shelton about the Buccaneers ‘ selection of Jameis Winston. “I was deeply disturbed that [the team] did not talk to Erica Kinsman at any point in their process because ‘We knew what she would say from the reports.’ I think you cover all bases.”

Kinsman accused Winston, former Florida State quarterback and the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick, of rape in 2013. No criminal charges were filed and Winston was cleared again at a university conduct policy hearing late last year. She has since filed a civil suit, which Winston countered.

Jameis Winston (College Press Box)
Jameis Winston (College Press Box)

“It’s difficult for me to understand how organizations can both take a stand against violence against women and still employ perpetrators for millions of dollars a year. Those seem like contradictory acts,” said Cece Lobin, Women’s Empowerment Coordinator at YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

The steps by the NFL to prevent and contain domestic violence issues within the past year suggests a separation between the league and its teams as players with violence issues continue to be drafted.

Shelton described the league and its teams as “different entities,” where the will to win always takes priority. But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in an April interview with USA Today’s Christine Brennan, said any player misconduct still falls under the league’s personal conduct policy.

“I work as an individual to do everything I can to strengthen our league and have the right kind of policies to make sure that our players are being responsible and that the NFL is taking a very strong position of leadership in doing the right things in society,” Goodell said. “I think people expect that.”

The NFL added domestic violence advisors to its staff in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, as well as new training sessions for all employees, including players. Twenty-seven draftees went through this training last month in Chicago prior to the draft. Winston, who opted to not attend the draft, was not one of them.

“Praise should be given to a domestic violence campaign that spotlights the abuse by NFL players,” said Lobin. “However, a simple media campaign in no way ensures safety – that is an illogical and unrealistic thought process.”

Frank Clark (College Press Box)
Frank Clark (College Press Box)

Winston was arguably the most high-profile player drafted this year, but second-round picks Dorial Green-Beckham and Frank Clark have similarly troubled pasts. Two women said they found Clark’s then-girlfriend beaten and semi-conscious in an Ohio hotel room last year, according to police reports. Clark’s new team, the Seattle Seahawks, did not interview these witnesses in their vetting process, the club confirmed to the Seattle Times.

“You wouldn’t talk to guys [during the vetting process] who only think he’s a good player and don’t think he’s a bad player. You talk to both of them right?” said Shelton. “Why not do the same when somebody has been accused of a crime?”

Police were called last year after Green-Beckham allegedly pushed a woman down stairs in his ex-girlfriend’s apartment building while attending the University of Missouri, but the woman did not press charges. He was arrested for marijuana possession in January of 2014, but not charged.

Dorial Green-Beckham (College Press Box)
Dorial Green-Beckham (College Press Box)

Green-Beckham’s stock further plummeted after he did not play a down in more than a year when he was kicked off the Tigers and sat out a redshirt year for Oklahoma last season. He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the 40th overall pick.

The Titans said they spoke to Green-Beckham’s coaches at Missouri and Oklahoma before drafting him.

“My impression [was] that he understands that he probably made some mistakes and [if] he wanted to continue to play football, he had to do the right thing,” Titans vice president and general manager Ruston Webster said in a press conference after the pick.

Former NFL player John Holecek, now head football coach at Loyola Academy, said many of his former NFL teammates had similar issues off the field. But he said each case should be judged separately.

“There is responsibility for the NFL to show that it is more character-driven and a leader in our society,” said Holecek, drafted by the Arizona Falcons in 1995. “But if [a player is] not convicted in a court of law and he’s just had some stupid immaturity issues, does he grow from that? Is he a good person underneath?”

Winston, Green-Beckham and Clark reported for their rookie training camps last week as concern for their pasts clouded public perception.

Yesenia Maldonado, executive director of Between Friends Chicago, a non-profit agency “dedicated to ending the cycle of domestic violence,” said she is prepared to not let the issue go away. She said since the video of Rice [assaulting his then-fiance in an Atlantic City elevator on Valentine’s Day, 2014] surfaced, calls to their domestic´ violence hotline increased sixfold.

Maldonado said the most important factor is how these teams handle its players after they draft them.

“And my hope is that the attention around some of the things that have occurred really is a wakeup call [for players] … to really use your platform for good,” she said.

Photo at top: Goodell announces Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s pick at first round of 2015 NFL Draft (Avinash Chak/Medill)