Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns, Freddie Kitchens, Greg Hardy, Jarvis Landry, John Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs, Kareem Hunt, Male Violence, NFL, Odell Beckham, Reuben Foster, Robert Kraft, Sashi Brown
Welcome to what I plan will be a series deliberately scattershot and partial take on the NFL offseason. The sheer quantity of news during the offseason is too overwhelming for one person to cover comprehensively so I’m going to go through the bits that grabbed me for positive or negative reasons and hopefully a couple of other posts on things I want to look at through the season.
However, I feel like I have to start with a couple of negative stories given the importance of them and how one of them ties into a major strand of the offseason news and a continued problem the NFL faces.
It was hard to miss the news that Robert Kraft had been charged with two misdemeanour counts of soliciting prostitution last month. He was the headline news of a wider investigation into sex trafficking in Florida but his charges only relate to two separate visits to a day spa, including one on the day of the AFC championship game. There were plenty of jokes flying around but there is a serious point behind the headlines in that although there has been no evidence that the people he saw had been trafficked, that doesn’t mean that others at the spa had not been. Kraft has pled not guilty and also has been offered a plea deal, but he has not accepted it and is fighting to stop the video evidence from going public.
There is likely going to be some kind of investigation and punishment from the NFL as part of its conduct policy that covers owners and staff as well as players, but we don’t know what punishment the league is going to hand down.
One case where we do know the punishment is for ex Kansas City Chief and now Cleveland Brown Kareem Hunt, who has been handed an eight game suspension for an incident where he kicked a woman as part of an altercation that took place before last season. This means that half way through the season the Browns will get Hunt back who was a focal point of the Chiefs last season before video of the incident (that had already been investigated by the league) was released by TMZ and the Chiefs promptly cut him.
Sadly, at twenty-three Hunt was both too young and talented a football player for someone not to pick him up and the Browns were that team. If you look at the roster it might have been a surprise given how good Nick Chubb looked once he was heavily featured by the Browns, but the other factor that needs to be considered is who is making the decisions for the Browns.
There is no denying that Browns’ GM John Dorsey has done a good job with the resources his predecessor Sashi Brown accumulated before he was fired. Dorsey looks to have found a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield and this offseason swung a trade for Odell Beckham to further augment the roster amongst sever other moves. However, for all that many pundits are saying the Browns are favourites for the AFC North and could be a contender in the AFC, things might not actually be so straight forward.
There’s a reason hat Odell Beckham was available to be traded and it is only speculation that his friend and college team-mate Jarvis Landry (he of the ‘Bless Em’ Hard Knocks clips in pre-season) will help Beckham stay focussed and productive. Certainly there have never been any incidents of the likes that triggered Hunt’s suspension but the Browns have a first year head coach in Freddie Kitchens who has a whole new world of responsibilities to take care of as well as a potentially combustible set of players. The thing Dorsey is relying on will be how effective Mayfield was when Kitchens took over the offence last season and that Kitchens will utilise Beckham in a way that will keep the talented receiver happy as his complaints were mainly about productivity with the ageing Eli Manning, but Kitchens will have to deal with the Hunt situation.
The reason I am really focussing in on this is that although lots of teams have players with troubling pasts and the Browns are certainly not the only ones to have given chances to players because they think their ability will outweigh the negative press, but John Dorsey has a history of taking chances on such players. Not only did John Dorsey draft Kareem Hunt for the Chiefs and give him a chance in Cleveland but he also drafted Tyreek Hill in the fifth round for the Chiefs despite him already having a domestic violence conviction. In his three seasons in the league Tyreek Hill has gone from being the player with the past and a special team’s ace returner that was discussed in context of his past to one of the most dynamic players in the game and one of the faces of the NFL. As his skill blossomed so the coverage of him transformed, which to an extent is understandable as your NFL broadcast team are not exactly in a position to breakdown the complex nature of society’s struggles with male violence. However, whilst I do believe in the importance of rehabilitation, we have seen that professional sports is not exactly the place to rigorously hold people to standards of behaviour when people are getting a second chance handed to them with an extra degree of latitude because of their on-field talents.
In the case of Tyreek Hill, he has been involved with two domestic incidents in recent months and whilst he was not charged after the first, we are waiting to see if he will be charged with a crime related to a possible battery of a child at his home.
I don’t want to speculate too much more on this as we don’t know the details, but if charges are brought then there could be a swift reaction by the Chiefs again. Still, given the quick resigning of Hunt or a player like Rueben Foster I would not be surprised if Hill doesn’t gets picked up again. NFL teams don’t seem to be able to help themselves if the players is young and talented, even Greg Hardy got another chance in the league.
I don’t know if John Dorsey would want to take the risk again, but if I were a fan of the Browns I might be getting nervous. I love the fact that the long suffering Browns fans have something to hope for but I also know how downright horrible it is having players with such histories on your team. I would love for Hunt to realise the wrongs he’s done and seek amends. I want the Browns to have success (if not against the Bengals) but I can see a path for it to go wrong, and that path starts in John Dorsey’s office.
More importantly than any of this, we should be trying to tackle the culture where such acts of violence happen, or are tolerated because of a player’s skill. However, such change is painfully slow and in the meantime the very least we can do is remember who these players are and try to hold them to account where we can.