The Bears Should Pass on Signing Kareem Hunt

| January 23rd, 2019

There’s only one game left in the 2018 NFL season, and regrettably the Bears aren’t in it. So naturally our thoughts turn to what might happen this offseason. Apart from the obvious need to replace Cody Parkey, I didn’t think there’d be a whole lot to talk about this early in 2019. But Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace turned heads at their final news conference by not ruling out the possibility of signing former Kansas City Chief and current Commissioner Exempt List occupant Kareem Hunt.

While this is purely hypothetical, and months away from even being a possibility, it is currently a hot topic of discussion, and Jeff asked me if I’d like to weigh in. So here goes.

Pros of signing Hunt:

He’s a talented running back who thrived in Nagy’s system.

Cons of signing Hunt:

There’s a video of him kicking a woman on the ground.

My opinion:

Don’t sign him.

In many ways it should be that simple, but I do understand that in our current reality it isn’t. So here in more detail are the reasons why I don’t think Chicago should sign Kareem Hunt:

The Bears don’t exist in a vacuum.

We can’t talk about Kareem Hunt without acknowledging the environment in which we currently find ourselves. The systemic and long ignored abuse of women at the hands of powerful men is being exposed in a way it hasn’t before, and the NFL finds itself firmly entrenched in that discussion.

From the many credible yet unproven allegations against former and current players, to cases like Josh Brown, Ray Rice, Tyreek Hill, Joe Mixon, and yes, Kareem Hunt where there is no doubt as to their guilt, it’s clear the league, along with the sports community in general – and let’s face it, the whole goddamn world – has failed to adequately demand accountability on this issue. As fans have become more aware of the seemingly endless instances of abuse and cover-ups, we’ve grown more cynical about the degree to which the NFL takes violence against women seriously, and more vocal in our pleas for them to do better.

If the Bears do decide to sign Hunt they have to expect some fans and media alike will push back. Pace and Nagy have worked hard to build a culture of “good guys” who take pride in their “we vs. me mentality”. If they go ahead and sign Hunt, despite his history of violence, the Bears will be just another team who seem to care far more about the good a player does on the field than the bad he does off of it.

Unfair comparisons.

A common argument for signing Hunt is that, while what he did was bad it wasn’t anywhere near as awful as what Tyreek Hill or Joe Mixon did, and both those players are still in league. I would agree that watching the video of Hunt wasn’t as disturbing as the videos of Mixon or Ray Rice, nor is what Hunt did as violent as his former teammate Hill punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend.

But is that the standard we should be aiming for?

“He only shoved and kicked a woman, it’s not like he broke her jaw” is not an argument I feel very good making. The fact that other players in the league have arguably done worse doesn’t make it OK to overlook Hunt’s actions. Part of changing a culture of violence involves holding everyone to higher standards, so when it comes to the Bears’ decision to sign or not sign Hunt, what others have gotten away with shouldn’t factor into the process.

What about forgiveness?

“Everyone deserves a second chance” is another popular argument from those in favor of Hunt being signed, and on the surface it’s a fair point. I absolutely believe that someone who has committed an act of violence in the past can earn a second chance to atone for their mistakes and start again.

But where is the atonement?

Going on ESPN and saying that you’re sorry isn’t atonement, it’s PR. A (likely) suspension isn’t atonement, it’s mandated punishment (and from the NFL’s standpoint, also more PR). Being forced to attend alcohol and anger management classes is potentially helpful, but only if the person going actually wants to learn and change, and isn’t merely jumping through the requisite hoops to get what they want.

In his interview with ESPN, Hunt said “I’m asking for forgiveness and I definitely believe I deserve forgiveness,” but is he actually sorry for what he did or just upset he got punished? If he doesn’t fully understand the severity of his actions, it makes it more likely he’ll do something similar again. Which brings me to my last concern…

A pattern of behavior.

This isn’t the only physical altercation in which Hunt’s been involved this past year. He has also been accused of assaulting a man at a nightclub in January of 2018 (the assault of the woman happened in February) as well as an incident in June where he allegedly punched another man at Bay Lodging Resort in Ohio. No charges were filed as a result of any of these altercations, but they are all part of the NFL’s ongoing investigation. They also make up three separate acts of violence all committed within a six month span.

This makes it harder to claim the incident on video was a one-time mistake when Hunt’s made the same mistake three times in under a year. The fact that the other two incidents involve men is irrelevant. Hunt has a documented history of violence, and before a team even considers bringing him on they must do their research on every incident, and see real evidence he’s changed. They can’t just take his word for it because he is a good teammate who shows up to practice on time.

So if I’m Pace I don’t sign Hunt. Yes he’s talented, and yes he’s a good fit for this offense, but I think character and overall team culture are more important. The Bears have been great at finding exceptional running back talent in the middle rounds of drafts, and I trust their ability to evaluate players and find a good fit for Nagy’s system who isn’t also a morally dubious selection and potential PR nightmare.

And yet…

The hypocrisy of it all.

Does that mean that if Chicago decides to sign Hunt I boycott the Bears?

Probably not.

I won’t like it, just like I didn’t like the fact the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman in 2016. But that didn’t stop me from cheering as he helped them win a World Series. That probably makes me part of the problem. Admitting this makes for a far less decisive essay, but the truth is, I haven’t quite figured out how to reconcile the badness of individuals with enjoying the entertainment they provide, which is why I don’t begrudge others who support signing Hunt. One of 32 teams is absolutely going to sign him, after all. I just don’t want it to be Chicago.

While I won’t stop rooting for them whatever their choice, there’s no denying it’s more enjoyable to cheer for a team when I don’t have to put aside the shitty behavior of one of their players. Hopefully the Bears see it the same way.