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

Baker Mayfield: How Cleveland Rocked For (At Least) One Night

Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield Mania has arrived.

For the first time since 2015, the Cleveland Browns were the betting favorite at home against the New York Jets. This was the same Cleveland Browns team that had not won a game since December 24, 2016. Optimism was high, but throughout most of the first half, the execution was nonexistent. Isaiah Crowell summed up the Browns first half with his touchdown celebration.

On offense, Tyrod Taylor was a mess. Taylor could not get anything going and late in the second quarter; he had only completed 4 passes on 19 attempts for 19 yards. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Unfortunately, to make matters worse for Taylor, he had to leave the game late in the second quarter with a head injury.

I knew what time it was, you knew what time it was, and the entire city of Cleveland knew what time it was because number six was about to enter the game.

It was Baker time.

From his first throw, the game changed dramatically as Baker Mayfield fired a rocket to Jarvis Landry over the middle.

The drive ended with a field goal, and at the half, it was 14-3. In my mind, I knew this game was about to change because the number one pick was now in at quarterback. The relaxed and methodical Taylor was replaced with the fiery underdog that fans fell in love with at Oklahoma. Mayfield has always shined when the lights are brightest and boy, did he deliver.

When Carlos Hyde punched in his second touchdown of the game to take the lead, listen to the Cleveland crowd erupt. This reaction has not been heard in that stadium for well over two decades.

When all was said and done, the beer coolers were opened up in Cleveland because for the first time in almost two years; the Browns won a game with the final score of 21-17. Mayfield finished the night with 17 completions on 23 attempts for just over 200 yards, but it was his energy and leadership that stood out. Mayfield is the type of quarterback that thrives under pressure. Just by watching the game, you could see that Mayfield injected the entire Browns roster with a much-needed boost of charisma and swagger. The way Mayfield carried himself on the field is something that a veteran would do, not a rookie.

Put aside what you thought about the quarterbacks going into last year’s draft regarding talent. Look at each quarterback by their attitude and intangibles. There’s only one quarterback that fits the mold of the Cleveland Browns, and that’s Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has always had a chip on his shoulder his whole life. Mayfield was a walk-on not once, but twice in college. Despite winning 34/40 games at Oklahoma and the Heisman trophy, scouts still doubted Mayfield’s ability in the NFL because of his size and strength. This grit and tenacity are exactly what the city of Cleveland represents. It’s a blue-collar, “bring your lunch pale to work” type of city full of hardworking people. That is the epitome of Baker Mayfield.

I understand that this was one game and that one game does not make up for all of the heartbreak and disappointment that Browns’ fans have experienced over the years. That being said, Mayfield gave Browns fans something to cheer about for at least one night. He gave them someone to believe in on the football field. Is Mayfield the savior of the Browns? Only time will tell, but if history repeats itself, don’t doubt Mayfield.

Five up Five down: 5 best NFL Teams, 5 worst NFL Teams Week 3

5 best NFL teams

Five Up  Five Down is where we rank the 5 best NFL Teams and 5 worst NFL Teams. Who really cares about the teams in the middle. As Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights would say, “If you’re not first, you’re last”. The Five Up  Five rankings for Week 3 reflect what we learned in week 2. We learned the importance of having a good placekicker and the awesomeness of Patrick Mahomes II. So, here are the results after the first 32 games played.

Five UP: 5 best NFL teams

1.  TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-0)

They beat the Saints and the Eagles, which is why they’re #1 in our 5 Up 5 Down Weekly NFL Rankings.  Best team to watch if you are a fantasy fan right now.  The team is putting up points like playing Madden 19 on the easy level.  Ryan Fitzpatrick leads the NFL in passing (819 Yards 8 TD’s a 151.1 QBR), looks like Conor McGregor and is playing like Dan Marino!  #FitzMagic is real, and he is the first QB in NFL History (99 Years) to throw for 400 yards, and at least 4 TD passes in each of his team’s first two games.  This might be a mirage, but it’s a fun mirage. The Bucs are home versus the struggling Steelers (0-1-1) whose defense is struggling against the pass.

2.  LOS ANGELES RAMS (2-0)

 The Los Angeles Rams have it all going on right now.  A defense that generates points and an offense that is by far the most creative this side of New Orleans.  The defense is loaded with playmakers (Suh, Peters, Donald).   The offensive line is playing stout.  The Rams can play better since Todd Gurley has not been himself yet.  Next up: the battle of the LA Chargers (1-1) that would make Snake Plissken happy. Don’t be surprised to see the Rams at the #1 position in our NFL rankings next week.

3.  JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-0)

Jacksonville fans will not like our NFL Rankings Week 3! Everyone said that the one thing that is holding the Jaguars back from being serious Superbowl contenders is Blake Bortles.  Hmm…Blake looked good in getting his revenge last week against the Pats throwing for 377 yards, and 4 TD passes against the New England Patriots.  My biggest concern with this team, like the Rams, is depth. Plenty of time to add a piece or two, but this team has plenty of time to move up these Unafraid rankings.  Jacksonville will have a chance to go to 3-0 at home versus the (1-1) Titans.

4.  KANSAS CITY CHIEFS  (2-0)

Only Ryan Fitzpatrick has been more exciting to watch than Patrick Mahomes II (582 Yards, 10 Touchdowns, 143 QBR, with zero INT’s).  I still have issues with the Chiefs defense, but we’ll see.  That offense is loaded and watching a young QB come in and dominate the NFL is very exciting.  Kid Dynamite (My new nickname for him), will have a challenge this week at home vs. (1-1) 49ers and a stout defense.  The Chiefs could be a good bet to rise in my NFL Rankings Week 3.

5.  CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-0)

Sure we laugh at this thinking they will fail, and Marvin Lewis won’t get fired again, but this team has been very impressive!  They won both of its games to start the season in dominating fashion, 34-23 against the Colts and Ravens.  The Red Rifle has been very terrific to start the season (108.5 QB Rating with 6 TD passes and just 1 INT).  Geno Atkins has been unblockable with three sacks.  The only reason why I have him at #5 is that they are the Bengals.  If these two performances were by the Patriots or Eagles, they would be #1.  That’s how impressive they have been.  Next up:  at the (1-1) Carolina Panthers.

Closing in on the top 5:   6. Minnesota Vikings (1-0-1),  7. Miami Dolphins (2-0), 8. Denver Broncos (2-0).

Five DOWN: 5 worst NFL teams

28.  DETROIT LIONS (0-2)

It seemed like things were trending in the right direction for the Lions, then the season started.  They got blown out by a rookie QB at home against the Jets and last week they tried to come back but fell short vs. 49ers. Matthew Stafford is taking a beating and hasn’t played well (76.7 QBR) the running game which was thought to be better with the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson has failed largely because of the offensive line not creating any running room. Will Matt Patricia be the latest Patriots coordinator to fail as a Head Coach (156-227 .407 Winning %). Well, his mentor brings the Patriots (1-1) to town on Sunday night, which could mean a 0-3 start.

The season started off with a catastrophe trading Khalil Mack away.  Funny, Jon Gruden said at his press conference on Wednesday, “Its hard to find a great pass rusher !” really? Derek Carr played much better in week #2 but this team gets no pressure on the opposing team’s QB, and the Wide Receivers are not getting separation.  Jared Cook has been a stud, but the Raiders look like they at best will be an 8-8 squad. The Silver and Black travel to South Beach to face the surprising (2-0) Miami Dolphins.

30. CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-1-1)

They have played better and really should be 2-0.  Doesn’t matter they had a kicker who cost them two games and Mr. Gonzalez is now gone. They replaced Gonzalez, not with a proven veteran (Santos or Forbath were available since Bailey said no), but with a rookie who had a 69% FG percentage at UCF. Yikes! I like the talent on this team, but the dysfunction of what has produced (1-32-1) football is still intact. Think of this: the Browns have not won on a Sunday since December 13, 2015 (vs. 49ers).  That is over 1,000 days.  They have a chance to end that streak next week vs. Oakland but tonight they are favored for the first time in a long time vs. the N.Y. Jets (1-1) A chance for Cleveland to get out of the doghouse in our NFL rankings.  Maybe the team needs back on Hard Knocks; they had more hope then.

31.  ARIZONA CARDINALS (0-2)

 Okay, they could be #1 in our power poll, but I like the Cardinals, so I gave them clemency.  What they won’t like is that fact they have scored a whopping 6 points in 8 quarters of play.  Sam Bradford looks like he should retire.  He set an ominous mark on Sunday against the Rams with the lowest yards per pass completion ever. Checkdown Sammy had 17 completions for 90 yards that averaged a paltry 3.33 yards.  It wasn’t that good, and the OL has been pitiful.  The Josh Rosen watch is on as the Cards will look to score some points at home versus the Chicago Bears (1-1).

32.  BUFFALO BILLS (0-2)

 The Buffalo Bills are the worst team in the NFL.  Hey, they still have the best fans, but man will this year be tough to watch!  It’s so bad they have players retiring at half-time!  What happened? They were just in the playoffs.  They already are at minus 55, the worst point differential in the league, with a date coming up with Kirk Cousins and the high-powered Vikings (1-0-1) on the road.  Josh Allen will get his 2nd NFL start with the 2nd worst offense (have already yielded 11 sacks) going up against the #1 defense from last year (Bills are 16.5 point underdogs Sunday). This could get a lot uglier.

Knocking on futilities door:  Houston Texans (0-2),  Seattle Seahawks (0-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1) 

Come back next Wednesday for Five up Five down: 5 best NFL Teams, 5 worst NFL Teams Week 4.

Bob Wylie Continues to Steal the Show on HBO’s Hard Knocks

Let me start by saying this. I have no idea how many games the Cleveland Browns will win this year. I have no idea when Baker Mayfield will replace Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback.

However, I do know one thing. Bob Wylie is a star.

For the first time in awhile, the Cleveland Browns are a major story in the NFL thanks to Hard Knocks, a reality-sports television program on HBO that chronicles an NFL team in training camp. Teams like the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, and New York Jets have been featured on the program. This year, the Browns were chosen to be the featured team. The offseason has been full of promise despite not winning a game last year. With the additions of Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, and Baker Mayfield to go along with the return of Josh Gordon, the overall sentiment is that the Browns are on the upswing.

However, all of those storylines have taken a back seat to Mr. Electricity himself, Bob Wylie. Wylie is 67 years old and the current Browns offensive line coach. Wylie is old school to a T. He’s honest, in-your-face, and just loves the game of football. Wylie probably has no idea what an iPhone is and definitely watches the 6 o’clock news every night. He’s your cool drunk Uncle at a wedding that could make a tree talk. That’s how entertaining Wylie has been.

Last episode, Wylie went on a rant about stretching and somehow he made a comparison to soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy.

Laugh out loud funny. Wylie is a true football guy. He eats, sleeps, and breathes football. Fancy stretching? Take a hike. The jokes didn’t stop there as Wylie paid homage to Ferris Bueller. Oh, he also drives a white maserati because kings do king things.

I’m in tears watching his gut synchronized to the snap count.

Did I mention that Wylie is a MAGICIAN?

If the Browns make the playoffs this year, it will be because of Bob Wylie. Hopefully, when Hard Knocks is finished, HBO decides to follow Bob Wylie for the rest of the year. The world needs it.

Follow me on Twitter @danny_giro.