Plenty of Kansas City Chiefs fans have expressed dismay at the prospect of losing linebacker Willie Gay to a four-game suspension announced this week by the NFL. No doubt, two games into a promising season, losing a top player stings.
But we choose to look at the suspension through a different lens, and find the penalty more than warranted. Gay pleaded guilty to avoid jail time in an incident that the mother of his child described as terrifying to police when he arrived at her apartment and refused to leave. The NFL can’t allow instances of domestic violence to pass without penalty, and fans should be relieved when it responds appropriately.
Gay also likely avoided a longer suspension because he owned up to his misdeeds and sought counseling, something the league takes into consideration. Gay, 24, also decided not to appeal the NFL’s decision.
We hope he’ll see in the suspension an opportunity for a reset. The suspension without pay will keep Gay away from Chiefs facilities, practices or games. We hope he takes advantage of the the available resources offered to him by the league during his time away from the club, including therapy for the mental health issues that Gay has said he has battled since high school and college.
These next four weeks can be a period of healing for Gay, who can still write a positive ending to this story. We’re encouraged by Gay’s decision to openly discuss his mental health struggles. We applaud his willingness to seek help.
We hope, too, that the mother of his child — the victim in this case — receives any care and support she needs, too. After all, the allegations that led to Gay’s arrest were serious.
In January, Johnson County prosecutors accused Gay of destroying property during a domestic altercation with the mother of his 3-month-old son. He was charged with criminal destruction of property less than $1,000, a domestic violence-related misdemeanor that could have derailed the young man’s career. Gay allegedly shoved the woman onto a couch, she told investigators.
We can’t overlook the fact that the NFL’s response to off-field problems, including domestic violence and run-ins with the law, can seem maddeningly arbitrary. All we can say is that in this case, it appears to have struck the right balance between the maximum penalty and uncomfortable leniency with which it has acted so often in the past. Especially when it comes to instances of domestic violence, the league has an obligation to be firm.
But we also are optimistic that Gay has learned from this ordeal, and can emerge from the four-week time out a stronger player and healthier person. He agreed to a diversion plan that means he must remain drug-, alcohol- and trouble-free for a year. He was also ordered to pay a fine and restitution.
We want Gay to continue his road to recovery. Mental health struggles are real. We’re glad he’s getting help and addressing them publicly. And yes, we’re glad the NFL sidelined him for four weeks. Chiefs fans, and fans of Willie Gay, ought to be glad too.