The Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL at large are dealing with a far more serious issue than football.
The video that surfaced Friday of Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel is merely the latest example of a domestic violence problem that persists in the league, even after the reshuffling of priorities in the wake of the Ray Rice case four years ago.
The Hunt case will spark further debate about who knew what and when, and how the next case should be handled when there’s a report of such an episode involving someone associated with the NFL, whether there’s an arrest made or not, and whether there’s video or not. Presented with the footage — which they contend they saw for the first time Friday — the Chiefs took immediate action and released Hunt, who led the league in rushing as a rookie last season.
“It’s almost as if we take two steps ahead in consciousness and trying to do the right thing, and then it’s like four steps back,” said Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles-based sexual assault, domestic violence and youth violence prevention center. “We keep doing that not only in football but everywhere.”
In light of all this, it’s somewhat uncomfortable to be writing about football, which is trivial by comparison, and yet the NFL world isn’t going to stop turning. The Chiefs will still play in Oakland on Sunday and are trying to protect their 9-2 record, the best in the AFC.
Spencer Ware steps in for Hunt, and he’s a capable back. But this is a significant drop-off. We saw what happened last season during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension in Dallas, for multiple instances of domestic violence. The Cowboys essentially went from the best offense in the league to the worst, overnight.
“Hunt was one of the few rare backs who could get chunk plays, a 12-to-15-yard run,” said Bill Polian, a Hall of Fame personnel executive. “Very few backs have the capacity to do that. I’m not sure Ware fits in that category. He may, because the passing game is so explosive. If that’s the case, they’ll be fine. But if not, it puts a little more pressure on the passing game.”
From a football perspective, the absence of Hunt is significant, especially in a conference so tightly knotted in a logjam that includes the Chargers, New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Denver.
There are recent examples of teams overcoming the loss of key players, such as Steelers running back James Conner stepping in for All-Pro holdout Le’Veon Bell, or Philadelphia winning last season’s Super Bowl after Nick Foles replaced the injured Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Former Cincinnati quarterback Boomer Esiason learned on the eve of Super Bowl XXIII that the Bengals would be without running back Stanley Wilson because of a drug relapse in the team hotel.
“When you get on the field, you don’t even think about it,” said Esiason, whose team lost to San Francisco 20-16. “I never even thought once about Stanley when I was playing .… You go out there and play with who you have, you rally around each other. At the end of the day, did we miss Stanley as a player in that game? Of course we did. But when you’re playing, you’re not even thinking about it.”
Without Hunt, the Chiefs are a different team and the AFC landscape is altered. But in the grand scheme, that’s nothing.
Far more important is if the latest incident will change the NFL, and how.