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In the Hunt For Relevance, The Browns Fumble Their Conscience

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Just when we thought it was safe to root for the Browns again...

The Super Bowl is over. A week has passed since the first official day of the NFL offseason. Teams are knee deep in personnel meetings for coaches and scouts, getting ready for the NFL Combine and preparing for Free Agency shortly after that. February is typically a quiet time for the NFL. That was until yesterday afternoon, when John Dorsey pulled the fire alarm as everyone was lying down for a long winter’s nap.

Kareem Hunt, the former star running back of the Willoughby South Rebels, Toledo Rockets and Kansas City Chiefs, signed a one year, $1 million dollar deal with his hometown Cleveland Browns. What a time to be a Browns Fan, right? THUD. This is no feel good, homecoming ballad. What may eventually become a song about redemption and overcoming odds begins as nothing more than a cautionary tale right now.

Of course, anyone reading this knows the story by now. And you’ve probably seen the video that surfaced by TMZ in November which shows Hunt throwing a woman down and kicking her over as she knelt, trying to compose herself in the hallway of a downtown Cleveland hotel. As with anything, there are two sides to every story and some people want to dive into all the “He Said/She Said” drama that surrounds that incident, as if that somehow justifies Hunt’s behavior. But it doesn’t. So I won’t.

What really matters are the optics, among other things. What’s really important is the message it sends to have a player capable of such acts on your football team and in your locker room. And not just to the other players around the league, but to the fans, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, to the women and children who watch the Cleveland Browns. Contrary to popular belief, winning is not all that matters in the NFL. Trust, character and responsibility... those things matter too. They have to. Unless you’re John Dorsey, General Manager of the trying-to-be-relevant-for-the-right-reasons Cleveland Browns.

Browns GM John Dorsey is sending mixed messages with the signing of Kareem Hunt.

Those “other” things certainly mattered to the Kansas City Chiefs, who outright released Hunt, a star player and an integral part of their offense, despite the fact that they had all but locked up a spot in the playoffs by the time the video surfaced in late November. If winning was all that mattered, the Chiefs could’ve kept Hunt, cited due process and perhaps even enjoyed their first Super Bowl berth in 49 years. But they didn’t. They got rid of him, not only for the deplorable content of the video but also because they found out he had lied to them when reports of the incident from last February were made known to them.

And now he’s a member of the Cleveland Browns. When asked why he felt comfortable enough to make such a questionable decision, John Dorsey referred to the process he and his team went through and explained “At the end of it, the one thing we did find was he understands and takes full accountability for the egregious act he committed. He is extremely remorseful for his actions. What he has done is he has sought professional counseling”, Dorsey said. “Trust has to be earned, and that has to be earned with the Cleveland Browns organization and the community of Cleveland moving forward. This will be a day-to-day thing in terms of earning trust.”

Is this supposed to make anyone feel better? No, and it only leaves more questions than answers. While extremely talented, Hunt is capable of the type of behaviors (plural) that make it a real stretch for anyone to willingly trust him, let alone support him. But Dorsey put himself and the entire Browns organization out on that limb. And for what?

With Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson and the implementation of a new offense designed to attack opponents through the air, is the juice that Hunt will provide (after whatever lengthy suspension he serves) really be worth the squeeze? Is the PR backlash that is occurring right now and will throughout training camp be worth it? Will the feeling of guilt that washes over FirstEnergy Stadium every time Hunt scores a touchdown and jumps into the Dawg Pound be worth it? Eck.

It’s probably good to admit that I can’t speak for everyone and I shouldn’t try. But no matter what happens from here on out with Kareem Hunt, I cannot imagine ever being comfortable enough to embrace having him as a member of the team I root for. No matter how many yards he rushes for or touchdowns he scores, I cannot imagine buying my sons his jersey or explaining to my daughter how he “didn’t mean to kick a girl” or saying to my wife “yeah but did you hear what she said to him before he pushed her on the ground”? No, because the message we’re sending matters. And that is the burden we ALL share now that he’s on the team we root for. Some things matter more than winning. Even in the NFL.