Rehabilitation and Redemption Part 1: Kareem Hunt’s NFL Second Chance

Kareem Hunt signed by the Cleveland Browns

Kareem Hunt has officially been signed by the Cleveland Browns. The former Kansas City Chiefs Running back was released in December amidst a domestic abuse scandal. He is currently on the NFL exempt lists and will not be eligible to play until the NFL completes its investigation and makes a decision on his punishment. As with many scandals in sports, it is a bigger deal when there is video evidence vs accusations. In this case, there is a video of the running back shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel. It is clear that Kareem Hunt was in the wrong, and he even stated that he was. But does he deserve a second chance? Should Cleveland be the one to give him that chance? The answer is a resounding yes.

The NFL has historically turned a blind eye to domestic abuse until the league was embarrassed by the punishments handed down in the Ray Rice and Josh Brown cases. The league then instituted a new Domestic Violence Policy. The new policies state that players involved in sexual assault or domestic violence incidents will receive a six-game suspension for a first offense and atheoretical lifetime ban from the NFL for a second offense. Kareem Hunt missed the final five regular-season games of 2018 and will likely be suspended for the first six games of 2019 in accordance with the policy. He will have to attend counseling.

NFL Players Are Not Bad Guys

NFL players are arrested at a far lower rate than the general public. So why does the twitter mob often demand players never work again? Doctors, lawyers, judges, and people law enforcement all have an element of morality attached to their job description. However, when they run afoul of the law they are given second chances. The NFL is full of is flawed human beings, just like the rest of society. Some of them have made mistakes or had accusations of impropriety against them if caught on tape may have ended their careers. Ray Lewis, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, and even Peyton Manning have had scandals either in college or the NFL.

But, if a player is surrounded by public controversy, the path to redemption for these players is complicated. In this digital age, this has become much more apparent. Tweets are viewed and screenshot before they can be deleted. Every phone has a quality camera and people demand transparency. Compounding this are angry, public outcries by the social media mob. People rightfully want our society to be better. There have been large-scale, public activism in recent years such as the #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MAGA movements strongly fueled by the power of social media. When a player like Kareem Hunt is caught on video making a critical mistake, he is screwed. Hunt has to now choose to do one of the following: Be like Richie Incognito or Be like Tyreek Hill.

Which Road Will Kareem Hunt Take

The case of Richie Incognito is a fascinating one. He played in the NFL as an offensive guard for 11 seasons, started 151 games, and made the Pro-Bowl four times. Incognito was talented. But he also caused a lot of trouble. A lot. After making his first Pro-Bowl in 2012 and winning the 2012 Good Guy Award, Incognito was a well-respected veteran. That all changed quickly. In 2013, when Incognito was asked to “toughen up” teammate Jonathan Martin, he took to bullying and threatening Martin. When Martin missed voluntary practices, Incognito threatened him and his family, while also using racial slurs we should never repeat or tolerate. After listening to the recording, the Dolphins suspended Incognito for three months. Then following review of the Martin exchanges and additional racial slurs used towards an assistant trainer, the Dolphins suspended Incognito for the entire 2014 season.

Missing an entire season due to threats and using the N-word doesn’t sound like a scenario that would play out well. But it almost did. Remember that Incognito was talented and the league needed quality offensive lineman. He was signed by the Bills and made the Pro Bowl with them for three consecutive seasons from 2015-2017. In a 2016 interview with Colin Cowherd, he said: “You learn from it, you move on”. However, Incognito did not learn as much as he needed to. In 2018, he threw a tennis ball and a dumbbell at another gym patron in a Life Time Fitness. He was later arrested for disorderly conduct and threatening funeral home employees when he was making arrangements for his father’s funeral. The police found two Glocks, three rifles, and a suppressor in his truck. Incognito managed to extend his career a few more years due to quality play and talent, but lacked the personal growth and changed needed for sustained success.

Change is Possible

In contrast to Incognito is Tyreek Hill. In 2014, Hill was dismissed from Oklahoma State because of graphic, domestic abuse involving his then-pregnant girlfriend. The police report states that “… the two got into an argument and he threw her around like a ragdoll, punched her in the face, sat on her and repeatedly punched her in the stomach, and choked her.” He was sentenced to three years of probation, anger management, a year-long batterers program and required to undergo a domestic-abuse evaluation. But while his fault was large, he took the necessary steps towards rehabilitation.

Hill completed his three years of probation, his anger management, and batterers programs, and also added community service into his life. His case was expunged. He is now engaged to Crystal Espinal, the same woman he abused, and they have a three-year-old son. Hill also earned an NFL Players Association’s Community MVP weekly award in 2018. Would Hill have been afforded this ability to change if his abuse was caught on camera? Unlikely. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t matter whether a crime is caught on video or not. Each player should be afforded a second chance to change and be redeemed.

This path of redemption for Kareem Hunt can be found in Cleveland. The team’s general manager, John Dorsey, was the general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs when they drafted Tyreek Hill amidst his controversy. He also drafted Antonio Callaway last season. Dorsey is willing to take risks on players if they can change and take steps towards growth. Dorsey also knows Kareem Hunt. He drafted him before departing from Kansas City to Cleveland. He clearly believes in Hunt.

Trust in Cleveland Browns GM John Dorsey

“My relationship and interaction with Kareem since 2016 in college was an important part of this decision-making process but we then did extensive due diligence with many individuals, including clinical professionals, to have a better understanding of the person he is today and whether it was prudent to sign him,’’ Dorsey said in a release. “There were two important factors: one is that Kareem took full responsibility for his egregious actions and showed true remorse and secondly, just as importantly, he is undergoing and is committed to necessary professional treatment and a plan that has been clearly laid out.”

Hunt has the general manager backing him and now all he has to do is gain the trust of the public. Luckily for Hunt, he is a Cleveland native. Hunt was born and played football through high school in Willoughby, Ohio before playing for the University of Toledo (also in Ohio). By playing near his hometown, he will have the support of his friends and family. Hunt also appears to be following in Tyreek Hill’s path. In an ESPN interview, Hunt said, “[The Chiefs] pretty much said we love you, everybody cares about you, and just we have to let you go. It was a tough conversation,” He added, “And the Chiefs did what was right. I made a poor decision and I’m willing to take full responsibility.” If he, unlike Incognito, is able to learn from his actions and move forward, he has the chance to find success.

Last, although it’s unfortunate that it comes down to it, Hunt is a very good player. When athletes perform well, they are generally accepted back into fandom quicker. Their controversies can dissolve more and more with each win. According to PFF, Hunt was the 9th-best running back in 2018 and the 3rd-best running back in 2017. He led the league in rushing and forced missed tackles in 2017. Playing for an up and coming offense in the Browns, the dual-threat Hunt can be utilized and find success.

Don’t Move the Goal Posts

What Kareem Hunt did is inexcusable and should never happen. But it is also inexcusable to deny someone the chance to move forward. How long do we have to put up with this outdated idea that someone’s mistakes need to follow them for life? Growth and redemption should be afforded to all. With each mistake, we have the chance to grow, learn, and impact others in a positive way. Each of us has the ability to own up to our own mistakes. Apologize, and take the steps necessary to change for the better. So we should accept and encourage others to do the same, regardless of if they were caught on video or not.

Rehabilitation and Redemption Part 2: Virginia Politicians, Megyn Kelly, Blackface

The NFL is Failing Adrian Peterson and its Bottom Line

You have a huge responsibility as an NFL player. You have a responsibility to yourself to take advantage of a great opportunity to give yourself a head start in life. You have a responsibility to family, friends, and fans who look up to you to be a good example and role model. You have a responsibility to the NFL to conduct yourself in a manner that always presents the league well.
Imagine this, you are a 20-23 year old male. You are a physical specimen. Faster, stronger, and (in many cases) worshiped you since you were a kid for your athletic prowess. Then, you have a financial windfall that often instantly makes you the person financially responsible for your family. It also enables you to have life’s greatest vices at your disposal on a daily basis. That is a lot to deal with for any man, let alone a very young man. While people are constantly telling you to “make good decisions”, every bad decision is at your fingertips and without education you may not know the difference. Forty year old men make bad decisions with financial windfalls, so how can a boy be taught to consistently make good decisions. What types of bad decisions did you make in your 20’s?
If the NFL is concerned about its players (and the investment that they are making into their players), it needs to dedicate some of its extensive resources to take responsibility to educate the VERY young men entering this league so that they grow into great men. This starts with mandatory, ongoing classes that extend and expand the Rookie Symposium throughout the season.  Specifically, these classes should educate the players on parenting, legal issues, domestic violence, interpersonal relationships, communication & conflict resolution, and substance abuse. Some of these issues were covered in the Rookie Symposium when I attended yet, but not to the extent necessary to inspire change. I’ve seen many players punished and teams lose valuable players because of decisions in these areas. There is a one or two hour “seminar” once or twice a year that focuses on, “Choices, Decisions, Consequences” and it is simply not enough… OBVIOUSLY.  While the intention of the seminar is great, it falls well short of the constant reinforcement necessary to make major breakthroughs that are sustainable.
Handing out long suspensions to players treats the symptom but does not address the real issues that are causing the problem. This does not mean that we excuse bad behavior. It means that giving players long suspensions cannot be the only recourse to resolving the problem. As players, many times our talent takes us places we are not mentally and emotionally prepared for. Many players come from socio-economically disadvantaged situations with no real financial education. Others were raised in unstable home environments without positive male figures in the home.
Don’t get me wrong… Adrian Peterson took things entirely too far with the discipline for his son. While his son may have required discipline, Adrian needed better tools and different options to offer that discipline. Long after his NFL career is over, he will still be a father and a long suspension from the NFL will have done NOTHING to educate him in these areas. I think that part has gotten lost in this whole saga. Peterson has stated that was raised with harsh discipline and an iron fist as many of us were. From his perspective, he probably believes that is what enabled him to become successful and the football player we all love. I’m sure Adrian Peterson loves his son just as all fathers do. He just did what he knew.  I think he just needs more options.

The NFL ruling that came down was expected but it’s not the ruling from the arbitrator from the hearing on Monday. I believe that the letter was a PR move designed to protect the league but it is not the most effective method to making a real change.  As a father myself, I know that harsh punishments may serve as a deterrent that don’t address the root of the behavior.  If NFL players are going to be punished on the field for the decisions and behavior that they do OFF the field, then let’s set them up for success and provide them with the education, resources, and tools necessary to do this.  Players need to be coached to be great players on the field.  If the league wants these players to be great men off the field, they need to provide coaching in this area as well.  If they can be coached to be great on the field, I know they can be coached to be great off the field.