Opinion: Chad Wheeler case shows that NFL teams, like society, still don’t care about domestic violence
Editor's note: This column includes details of alleged domestic violence.
If you want to understand why the NFL continues to have an uncomfortable number of players, like Chad Wheeler, accused of atrocious acts of domestic violence, we need to look to the past. The near past.
To Oct. 3, when Steelers offensive tackle Jarron Jones was charged with aggravated assault, strangulation and simple assault in an alleged fight with his girlfriend.
To Aug. 7, when Washington running back Derrius Guice was accused of strangulation and assault property destruction.
To December of 2019, when Miami defensive back Xavien Howard was arrested after police said he pushed his fiancee against a wall. The charges were dropped after the accuser declined to press charges.
On and on it goes. Year after year, incident after incident and the ugly pattern emerges. The NFL keeps entering this domestic violence Groundhog Day. Why? Because teams still see talent as the primary factor in their decision-making, they will take chances on players.
Former Seahawks offensive tackle Chad Wheeler is facing allegations of domestic abuse. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
Like Tyreek Hill.
Like Josh Brown.
Like Greg Hardy.
Like Kareem Hunt.
If you have some talent, like Wheeler, you get a shot. If you have lots of talent, like Hill, you get many.
To some teams, morals are for suckers.
The biggest takeaway from the Wheeler case is the difference between the league office and the individual teams. If the league office had its way, it would never allow Wheeler to play again.
But the individual teams are different. Think of each as an independent district like in the The Hunger Games. Can anyone definitively say that Wheeler will never play again in the NFL? Would anyone be surprised if he did? Of course not.
The Seahawks drafted Frank Clark in the second round in 2015 despite horrific domestic violence allegations.
Defensive back Tramaine Brock in 2017 was accused of punching and attempting to choke his girlfriend. The charges were later dropped because of lack of evidence. The Seahawks signed him.
If the NFL had its choice, Clark wouldn't be anywhere near the league. But Clark is 6 foot 3, 260 pounds and runs like a car, so to teams, thumbs up, baby. The Browns didn't care about Hunt's actions and signed him after he was caught on video shoving a woman.
Then, to further prove this point, the Chiefs traded for Clark. The same Chiefs who have Hill.
Because Hill runs like a faster car.
The league office is far from perfect (see: Rice, Ray), but it is less obvious about it.
This wasn't the first time Wheeler faced accusations of violence. When Wheeler was at Southern Cal, police shot him with bean-bag rounds to stop him from punching windows and walls while his girlfriend and baby were close by. The New York Giants still signed him, and then he went to Seattle in 2019.
Published reports, citing the police report, state that in the latest incident, Wheeler may not have taken his medication for bipolar disorder. As significant as that mental illness is, it should be noted the National Domestic Violence Hotline states the disorder doesn't lead a person to become a domestic abuser.
Players, coaches and team officials have always said privately that the NFL reflects both the good of American society and the bad. The elegance of humanity, and its profound capability to commit the most atrocious of acts.
The NFL does reflect a problematic world where a significant number of men still see a permission structure to physically attack women because, overall, many still get away with it. Donald Trump was accused by dozens of women of sexual assault and still became president. Singer R. Kelly weathered decades of allegations of abuse. Harvey Weinstein was a serial predator.
Yes, it's true, the vast majority of NFL players don't commit these or any crimes, but what we see is teams are still too lenient, still too silent, still too tolerant of abusive men.
Still too generous with chances.
It took the Seahawks days to release a statement, and when they did, it had the force of a feather landing softly on the ground.
"The Seahawks are saddened by the details emerging against Chad Wheeler and strongly condemn this act of domestic violence,” the statement read. “Our thoughts and support are with the victim. Chad is a free agent and no longer with the team. If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
“We encourage Chad to get the help he needs. If you are experiencing mental health issues, please reach out for help. For immediate help with a mental health crisis or thoughts of suicide: contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TRS: 1-800-799-4889).”
There's no statement from coach Pete Carroll or John Schneider, the general manager. If both had made strong statements, on the record, it would have meant something.
But they didn't because ultimately, and their actions prove this, they don't truly care about the issue.
Like other teams.
Like so much of society.
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