Please come with me as we skip over the fake moralizing and manufactured outrage and see that Kareem Hunt was always going to play football again.
Might be sooner than expected, and going back to Cleveland is setting him up to fail — more on this in a minute — but he was always going to have another job in the NFL.
The Chiefs released the star running back last fall almost immediately after security video surfaced that showed him kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel. That was the surprise. NFL teams don’t typically act so swiftly, and so decisively, particularly when it comes to removing a key part of a team that was shaping up to be a Super Bowl contender.
Does that sound cold? Good.
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The NFL is cold. Many other businesses are, too. Sales, finance ... heck — journalism. We are all lines on a spreadsheet somewhere, and if our value exceeds cost, then we’re in luck.
Hunt’s financial cost is the NFL’s version of peanuts, and he is still just 23 and the was league’s leading rusher in his only full season as a pro. So he’s in luck. The Browns announced they had signed Hunt on Monday. They did so predictably, with a statement from general manager John Dorsey that referenced his personal history with Hunt — Dorsey oversaw the Chiefs front office that selected him in the NFL Draft.
Dorsey hit all the expected notes: said Hunt took responsibility for “his egregious actions” that the Browns “do not condone.” Hunt is undergoing treatment and subject to an NFL suspension, and Dorsey’s statement made clear that another incident “will not be tolerated.”
Hunt released a statement, too. Again, it hit most of the expected notes. He apologized both for the violence and for lying about it later. He thanked the Browns for the opportunity and expressed a commitment to be “a better and healthier person.”
Notably, neither man’s statement mentioned the victim, or even the existence of a victim, and both focused solely on the incident caught on video, ignoring a larger and troubling pattern that developed around Hunt.
Sadly, that meat-headed, narcissistic, optics-first-and-everything-else-second response was also expected.
The NFL and the men who operate it are not in the business of healing. They are not about self-improvement. They are about football — first, foremost and above everything else.
That is not a controversial statement, or even a criticism. There is no “gotcha” there. And that stance is not extreme. Those words are a reflection of what the NFL has shown itself to be about, over and over, year after year.
If the NFL generally and the men who run the league specifically truly cared about Hunt beyond his gifts on a football field, they never would have allowed him to sign with the Browns.
That’s nothing against the Browns, who with quarterback Baker Mayfield leading a nice collection of talent are well-positioned to be a contender for years.
It’s just that Cleveland is the last place Hunt should be, not the first. He grew up in a nearby suburb, in a home without his father around consistently. He has a mom and grandma and brother who love him deeply, but he’s also shown himself incapable of avoiding the traps of stardom in his hometown.
His problems — the ones we know about, anyway — have come in Cleveland, or with old influences from Cleveland, or both.
Those influences are strong enough that at one point the Chiefs pushed for Hunt to stay in Kansas City full-time, to concentrate fully on football and shrink the number of outside voices from which Hunt was hearing. Remember: That was before the video went public, back when the Chiefs believed Hunt when he told them that he had stayed in his room the night of the hotel incident.
Now, the Browns have essentially made it impossible to track or limit the influences that have already proved too much for Hunt to manage.
This doesn’t mean that Hunt will fail. This doesn’t mean Hunt will be arrested again. This doesn’t mean the Browns haven’t made a smart football decision.
Maybe Hunt has been scared straight. That’s possible, too. The Browns appear to be building something real, finally, with an offense on the rise and a defense loaded with talent. Whenever Hunt is able to join them — an eight-game suspension seems to be the minimum punishment he’s looking at — they will only be more talented.
But that’s a very different issue than the one Dorsey addressed in his statement, or the one the NFL would love for you to believe it cares about. Dorsey talked exclusively about Hunt becoming a better man, of following the league’s guidelines for personal conduct.
That is, to be kind, hogwash.
Hunt was cut less than three months ago. He just began counseling. He’s still on the commissioner’s exempt list. This is not the process for a team or league that prioritizes a young man’s recovery. This is the process for a team salivating at an elite talent available on the cheap.
That doesn’t make the Browns a bad organization. It makes them a business. It makes them what we should expect.
But spare us the empty posturing, especially when you’re putting the guy in the worst possible situation he could find.