In announcing the signing of Kareem Hunt Monday, the Cleveland Browns General Manager John Dorsey said in a statement that the Browns “understand and respect the complexity of questions and issues in signing a player with Kareem’s history and do not condone his actions.” Dorsey added that the running back, who was released by the Chiefs in November after video emerged that showed him shoving and kicking a woman, “took full responsibility for his egregious actions and showed true remorse.”
The 23-year-old running back, who led the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie, was added to the Browns’ roster before the NFL completed its investigation of the incident, which took place earlier last year in a Cleveland hotel. The signing was subsequently criticized by both women’s rights activists and supporters of Colin Kaepernick.
Since becoming a free agent in March 2017, Kaepernick has been unable to latch on with an NFL team, despite having enjoyed statistical and on-field success in the league, including leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2013. The 31-year-old quarterback is pursuing a grievance filing against the league, accusing team owners of colluding to punish him for being the first player to protest racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem.
The difference between Kaepernick’s apparent transgression and what Hunt did was cited on the Internet by more than a few observers Monday, including Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, who tweeted, “Kareem Hunt is ON VIDEO kicking a woman while she’s on the ground and still got signed. Thank God he didn’t take a knee protesting social justice.”
Hunt is expected to be suspended by the league for the start of the 2019 season, possibly for six games, per the league’s guidelines on players accused of domestic violence. The Browns released Monday in which he said his actions were “wrong and inexcusable,” and declaring, “I am committed to following the necessary steps to learn and to be a better and healthier person from this situation.”
The president of the National Organization for Women, Toni Van Pelt, described the signing as sending a “message” that “money matters more than women.” She told NBC News, “Women don’t matter to the NFL, which is rather surprising because they’re a big part of the viewer audience.”
“Consistently, the message survivors hear is that their experiences aren’t valued,” a spokesperson for national victims-service agency Safe Horizons said to NBC News. “When we treat abuse or violence as a private problem or sweep it under the rug, that behavior is reinforced.”
USA Today columnist Nancy Armour wrote Monday that while some might “[h]owl in outrage at the NFL’s continued disregard for women or express disgust that its only principle remains self-interest,” it was inevitable that a team would eventually sign Hunt. Going forward, she said, the important thing will be to put him and the Browns “on notice and demand they follow through on the lofty intentions” they expressed Monday.
“It would be nice if we lived in a world where there was zero tolerance for physical and sexual abuse, where the health and safety of women mattered as much as the power and privilege of men,” Armour wrote. “But we don’t. … Now that the Browns have [signed Hunt], it’s up to them and the NFL to ensure more good comes out of it than a few touchdowns and 100-yard games.”
Hunt has personal ties to Cleveland, having grown up near the city before starring in college for Toledo. Hunt was also drafted by Dorsey when he was in charge of personnel for the Chiefs.
Dan Labbe of the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that before Dorsey took Hunt in the third round of the 2017 draft, he drafted Tyreek Hill in the fifth round in 2016 despite the wide receiver’s 2014 arrest and subsequent guilty plea for allegedly choking his pregnant girlfriend and punching her in the stomach.
“The Cleveland Browns, with this signing, declare from ownership on down, that talent and winning matter above all else,” Labbe wrote. “Maybe that’s the point. The cold reality is that, in the NFL, no one keeps their job by taking a stand and, in turn, losing games.”
To Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press, “it’s hard to get past the message this signing sent: that violence against women is forgivable, while kneeling during the national anthem is not.” He added, “The NFL is giving Hunt another chance because they know they can sell it. That says plenty, obviously. They had a similar chance to release statements and craft platitudes regarding Kaepernick.
“They didn’t. And haven’t. And likely never will.”
“Given what we know about Kareem through our extensive research, we believe he deserves a second chance,” Dorsey’s statement said, “but certainly with the understanding that he has to go through critical and essential steps to become a performing member of this organization, aside from what the NFL determines from their ongoing investigation. … We will support Kareem through this process and utilize our resources, however permitted, to help him become successful on and off the field as long as he continues to show the commitment necessary to represent this organization.”
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