The NFL has been roundly criticized for not doing enough to prevent the abuse of women in the wake of high-profile domestic-violence incidents involving former players Ray Rice and Greg Hardy.
That scrutiny has also fallen on the Chiefs, especially since they earlier this month drafted troubled wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who pleaded guilty to strangling his pregnant girlfriend while he was playing for Oklahoma State.
This week, Chiefs executives met with representatives from six Kansas City-area domestic-violence advocacy groups, ostensibly in hopes of stepping up dialogue about domestic-violence awareness.
“The Chiefs have met with a coalition of six metropolitan agencies, including Hope House, Joyce Williams Center, NewHouse, Rose Brooks, SafeHome and Synergy Services,” said Jenn Nussbeck, chief development officer for Hope House, “to discuss how we can all work together to address the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault in our community.”
Details about what was discussed at the meeting are scarce, but the Chiefs provided some insight to The Star this week about the steps they plan to take to discourage domestic violence within their organization.
“We know that abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, is a national issue, and it’s been a national issue for many years,” team president Mark Donovan said. “We, in the league, are doing our part to raise awareness, and education, and hopefully prevention … we have to be a leader in this phase, and this is one of the ways that we’re leading.”
While the NFL has toughened its penalties for such violations, the Chiefs are fighting the perception that they were wrong to draft Hill — especially in a city that less than four years ago was stunned by the murder of Kasandra Perkins by Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who then took his own life.
When it comes to domestic-violence training and prevention within the organization, Donovan said the Chiefs are following guidelines laid out by the NFL. The topic will be covered heavily at the team’s rookie symposium, which will take place June 22-24, and all team employees will undergo mandatory training later this fall.
Chiefs rookies recently completed 15 one-hour sessions that highlighted topics about the “community, Chiefs traditions and Chiefs processes and policies,” according to a statement from the team. The sessions were part of the Chiefs’ player-engagement program, and did not include any domestic-violence training.
That training is coming, though.
“We (will) drill down, specifically, with the rookies on healthy and unhealthy relationships,” said Kirsten Krug, the Chiefs’ vice president of human resources and administration. “We let them role-play during that time, and if they have questions and concerns about how to handle those situations, we have professionals there that walk them through that.”
That the Chiefs themselves will provide this training to their rookies is a new concept. The league earlier this year did away with its annual “rookie symposium,” which it had held annually since 1997. The NFL contends that charging individual teams with providing this training ensures that all rookies will be able to attend, not just those who were drafted.
The Chiefs agree with the NFL’s decision to put the onus on the league’s 32 teams.
“The league gives us a lot of guidance on what to include, and they provide experts,” Donovan said.
What teams offer in terms of domestic-violence awareness training can differ. The Baltimore Ravens, for instance, this week invited Rice speak to their rookies. He talked about his life experiences, good and bad. Like Hardy, Rice is no longer in the league.
Across the parking lot from the Chiefs, the Royals have had Kathy Redmond, who formed the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes in 1998, speak to their players on multiple occasions. She said she has also spoken to many other Major League Baseball teams since forming her coalition.
Redmond, who accused a University of Nebraska defensive lineman of raping her when she was a freshman at the school in 1991, said that she has been invited to speak to the New England Patriots this offseason, but no other NFL teams have inquired about her services as a speaker.
“They’re extremely attentive,” Redmond said of the players’ typical reception to her message, which she has delivered during spring training. “They’re very interested in what a woman has to say about it, and somebody that’s been through it. So many of them have had either domestic violence in their background, or been around people have been raped … they want to understand what happens, and what goes on, and how they can help.”
The Chiefs, meanwhile, say they plan to cover domestic violence as one of 17 hour-long topics during next month’s symposium here in Kansas City. They say that round of domestic-violence awareness training will be presented to the rookies by five professionals in the field. The Chiefs declined to name those five professionals but say they were vetted by the league and selected based on their expertise regarding domestic violence and sexual assault.
This fall, according to an NFL spokesman, every NFL coach, player and team employee will attend additional league-mandated domestic-violence and sexual-assault training programs. This has been the case annually since 2014, in the wake of the Rice and Hardy incidents.
All Chiefs rookies will also attend two additional sessions during the season focused entirely on healthy and unhealthy relationships. They will be led by the team’s primary clinician, Dr. Sheriece Sadberry, said Krug.
Other notable topics the Chiefs will cover during their June symposium include drunk driving, mental health and proper workplace conduct. Players will also learn about budgeting and investing their money; NFL Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams will speak to them about the importance of planning ahead.
“To have somebody like Aeneas speak, it resonates,” Donovan said. “And they can see what it means to him today versus when he was a rookie.”
Other Chiefs Hall of Famers, such Bobby Bell, Len Dawson and Will Shields, also spoke to the group at the rookie dinner, which was held in early May.
As for Hill, the Chiefs say they have helped him find a counselor in the area so he can continue his court-mandated counseling, which was part of his plea agreement.
“I think the response from our fans has been understandably mixed,” Donovan said. “We’ve received a response on both ends of the spectrum, with folks who felt like we had made a mistake in drafting Tyreek and also people who supported us drafting Tyreek and giving this player an opportunity. And we understand and respect both sides of the issue.
“We feel like what we said all along — we trust the decision-making process (in deciding to draft him), we trust the people who make the decision and the research they do, and we’re hopeful that we’ve put Tyreek in a place where he can succeed.”
Topics the Chiefs have covered thus far in their rookie-orientation process:
▪ Importance of player engagement
▪ Media responsibility
▪ Team security
▪ Weight room rules
▪ Equipment rules
▪ Player health and safety
▪ Role of community outreach
▪ Payroll education
▪ Credit and personal finance
▪ Power of renting vs. buying
▪ Leasing vs. purchasing
▪ Veteran player panel
▪ Psychology of money
▪ NFL Players Association
And here’s what’s on the agenda for the Chiefs’ rookie symposium, which will be held June 22-24 at the club’s facility:
▪ Introduction to the NFL (video)
▪ Player resources
▪ Player benefits NFLPA (medical, total wellness, financial)
▪ DUI/MADD presentation
▪ Domestic violence/sexual assault
▪ Character and values
▪ Respect at work, workplace conduct, communication
▪ Mental health
▪ Managing your life off the field
▪ ‘Beginning with the end in mind’
▪ Rule changes
▪ NFL league policies
▪ Tour of Arrowhead
▪ Player panel
▪ Play 60 event details