The K.C. Chiefs open the 2021 season today, and once again will square off against a familiar face. Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt will take the field against his former team for the second time, and second consecutive game, as the Browns’ season will begin on the same field where their 2020 campaign ended.
On the surface, it has appeared easy for some of Chiefs Kingdom to get over the loss of the Chiefs’ third-round pick in 2017. Many fans believe that the 2018 Chiefs would have gone on to win Super Bowl LIII, had Hunt not have been released in December of that season.
It’s natural to want to appear calloused toward someone who was caught on video kicking a woman in a hotel. That’s not really up for debate. But Hunt has certainly paid the price for his transgressions, having been released from the Chiefs and serving an eight-game suspension in 2019 in spite of the fact that no charges were filed after the incident. The now 26-year-old did not appeal his suspension; instead he offered up a sincere public apology in the wake of his release.
Watching Kareem Hunt brings mixed emotions for some of Chiefs Kingdom.
As much as I’d like to appear to have moved on completely from the 2017 rushing champion, here’s the fact I just can’t get over: Hunt is still my favorite running back to watch play football. He has all the breathtaking traits that football viewers love to behold. He has elite vision. He seeks contact. He never seems to go down to the first defender who engages him. He’s involved in the passing game. He always seems to gain two or three more yards than it looks like he should have. And his passion for the sport is visible on his face.
A handful of other former players have come to town and been showered with unforgiving boos from the Arrowhead crowd, but you can almost taste the unspoken pangs of “what if?” when Hunt takes the field in a Browns uniform.
What if things had been different? Fact is, if Hunt had somehow avoided becoming TMZ fodder on that fateful night in a Cleveland hotel, it would have caused a butterfly effect that no one could accurately conceive. In an alternate universe where Hunt remained on the Chiefs roster, sure, they might have gone on to win the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, and they certainly could have beaten the Rams in the Super Bowl. But that leads to more questions. Would the team have had the same hunger to come back in 2019 to repeat as Super Bowl champions in Miami?
But let’s digress. Strictly as it relates to Hunt, there’s a good chance that he wouldn’t be in a Chiefs uniform as the team takes the field today, anyway. Even if he’d have stuck with the Chiefs through these last few seasons, Hunt’s rookie contract would have expired this past spring and he would have been due for a hefty contract. There is a very good chance he would have been the odd man out on a team with plenty of offensive firepower and greater needs elsewhere.
On the whole, Chiefs Kingdom doesn’t even have a clear cut definition for Hunt’s career in Kansas City. “What would have been?” “Would Brett Veach consider bringing him back in free agency?” “Is he considered a bust?” There are so many talking points surrounding Hunt (as a player and as a person) that Chiefs fans either disagree on or just aren’t being honest with themselves about.
In my mind, I’ve moved on. The Chiefs have a running back with whom I am happy, and there are plenty of other things to be excited about when this Chiefs offense takes the field on Sunday afternoon. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t have any heartache left over from what happened.
Ultimately, it was a terrible event that led to Hunt’s release, and I believe Chiefs brass did the right thing in letting Hunt go. The last thing Brett Veach wanted to do was release a young, talented player from a team vying for a Super Bowl, but his hand was forced. I salute him for having the kind of grit it takes to cut bait on a high-profile player like Hunt.
Though my football heart will twitch this afternoon, that is where it will end. I must make clear something that is much more important than our feelings about an athlete playing a game: Violence against women is one of the most systematic and ubiquitous human rights violations across the globe. It cannot be condoned and it cannot be justified.