There’s no defense for Kareem Hunt as sensitive Chiefs were forced to cut him

Senior NFL writer
Yahoo Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kareem Hunt put himself in a very difficult situation, a place that led to his stunning release on Friday night. And he has only himself to blame.

On Friday, TMZ released a video of an incident from February in which the Kansas City Chiefs’ Pro Bowl running back was shown shoving and kicking a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel.

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In the video, Hunt emerges from a hotel room and confronts the woman, who had apparently been goading him for some time. She approaches him, the two argue and he shoves her. An acquaintance of Hunt’s later told police that the woman — who responded by hitting Hunt — called him racial slurs.

Hunt had to be restrained from approaching the woman again, and in his fury, he knocked over a man — who then bowled into the woman. Toward the end of the 77-second video, Hunt delivered a kick at the crouching woman, who plops on the ground.

Kareem Hunt is done in Kansas City after video showed him striking a woman at a hotel in February.  In 2017, Hunt, as a rookie, was the league’s rushing champ. (AP)
Kareem Hunt is done in Kansas City after video showed him striking a woman at a hotel in February.  In 2017, Hunt, as a rookie, was the league’s rushing champ. (AP)

No matter how you slice it — and I’ll get to why the woman’s alleged use of racial slurs don’t matter — the video is bad. The video blew up on social media, and the Chiefs and NFL were besieged with requests for comment. Five hours later the NFL placed Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list, preventing him from playing or practicing. A half hour after that, the Chiefs finished the job by axing Hunt with an ice-cold statement.

“Earlier this year, we were made aware of an incident involving running back Kareem Hunt,” the statement began. “At that time, the National Football League and law enforcement initiated investigations into the issue. As part of our internal discussions with Kareem, several members of our management team spoke directly to him. Kareem was not truthful in those discussions. The video released today confirms that fact. We are releasing Kareem immediately.”

The statement and decision were unusually firm, hard and swift for an organization that, as one of the AFL’s founding teams, is typically content to stand behind the league’s decisions. Team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt is a league man, someone who often thinks about the best interests of the shield. In many ways, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone around here to see the Chiefs let Hunt linger on the NFL’s exempt list until the league made a decision about what to do with him.

But the Chiefs didn’t do that.

Consider the fact the Chiefs already employ Tyreek Hill — who once pled guilty to punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend, but did so before he was drafted in 2015 and has, by all account, been contrite. It would be negligent to overlook how the presence of Hill — a game-changing, hard-to-replace talent who almost certainly would have received a massive contract extension sooner rather than later — may have contributed to this decision. Same goes for the team’s history with former linebacker Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend before killing himself at the team’s practice facility in 2012.

Had they gone soft on Hunt, the Chiefs, who currently sit atop the AFC with a 9-2 record, would have been seen as a team with an indifferent attitude about violence against women. They would’ve likely been mentioned every time another team took a chance on an uber-talented player with that background, just as the Washington Redskins did this week after its waiver claim on Reuben Foster.

And considering the significant amount of goodwill the Chiefs had to expend locally when they selected Hill in 2015 — much to the uproar of many fans who cited it as an insensitive attitude toward the Belcher shooting — there’s no way they were going to tie themselves to that narrative. Maybe they would for a franchise quarterback, or a longtime team icon. But not for a running back, even one who led the 2017 season in rushing.

Tyreek Hill (10) wasn’t a popular draft pick in 2015 for the Chiefs.  (AP)
Tyreek Hill (10) wasn’t a popular draft pick in 2015 for the Chiefs.  (AP)

Still, opinions in Kansas City on the decision to release Hunt were divided, as some fans rushed to use the NFL’s lack of action — and the fact there were no charges brought against Hunt — as means to defend him. In a weird way, the fact TMZ used the word “brutalizes” to describe the incident seemed to prepare fans for the worse, which directly led to some thinking it wasn’t “that” bad.

The degree of “badness” matters little. No matter what, Hunt needed to be better on that night, even if the woman used a disgusting racial slur, as his acquaintance told police she did.

Among African-Americans, the n-word is widely (and understandably) recognized as a fighting word when used by another ethnicity. But professional football players are told from the moment they enter the league that they’re targets. People are dying to goad them into doing something stupid.

In the end, I hope Hunt learns from this. This is a horrific look for him, especially after he allegedly punched a man in the face at an Ohio resort in June. Public figures have to walk away from trouble, no matter what is said. Hunt clearly has work to do in this area.

“I want to apologize for my actions,” Hunt said in a statement. “I deeply regret what I did. I hope to move on from this.”

Knowing NFL teams’ relentless adherence to winning — and fans’ willingness to forgive — I suspect he’ll eventually get a chance to do so. It just won’t be with the Chiefs, who had to make a stone-cold business decision or risk being forever branded as an organization that’s far too lax on men who hit women.

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