By Robert Zeglinski
The concept of second chances is fascinating in our world. As human beings, we all make mistakes. It’s why we’re human. It’s how we learn. When we make mistakes, we hurt people we love and trust. We act as our own worst, neurotic self-saboteurs, sometimes without a second thought. It’s in these respective affairs we confront on a daily basis where it’s said we apparently should get a second chance. Where it’s said we deserve a second chance. A chance that we sometimes beg for, not always being afforded it, having to live with our actions as we grow.
As the Bears begin preparations for the 2019 off-season in earnest, one conversation looms prominently in the background: the status of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. The idea of a second chance acting as the hot button topic.
Hunt, released by Kansas City this past late November after video surfaced of him kicking a women in February 2018, remains unclaimed by any NFL team after passing through initial waivers. He sits on the Commissioner’s Exempt List until further notice (carrying with him a mandatory, at minimum, six-game suspension if he’s reinstated), and is waiting to catch on with another team if possible. He’s a productive young player with a sketchy past waiting for that second golden opportunity. He’s a player rife with baggage, is a lightning rod of (justifiable) controversy, and will immediately invite heat, public pressure, and further necessary social commentary if acquired by any professional team.
Heat and public pressure, mind you, that won’t be worth it in the end.
It’s interesting then, that in the midst of their season-in-review press conference from Monday that turned attention towards next year, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy didn’t shoot down the possibility of Hunt being a Chicago target. If anything, their vague dancing around related questions showed that they’re at least considering a move to snatch up Hunt, despite his recent issues off the field. Nagy in particular danced around the issue, saying he spoke with Hunt about a week prior to try and connect with him, and that he believes in second chances.
While the Bears didn’t definitively say yes to the possibility of signing Hunt, they didn’t say no either. That distinction matters.
On its face, without considering any social context, signing Hunt makes perfect sense for the Bears in football terms. He’s not one of the most naturally gifted NFL running backs like the Giants’ Saquon Barkley and Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott that can flip games on a dime by himself. But, he’s a talented multi-faceted runner that fits Nagy’s diverse Chicago offense to a tee. He’s a beyond productive talent that would allow the Bears to eliminate a great degree of predictability from their offense in an ongoing backfield platoon of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Hunt’s availability may well be seen as a blessing in disguise for the Bears and those that only view football through a sports magnifying glass, as he’d undoubtedly make an established NFC contender that much better.
It’s transitive property. Add a talented player to a good team, and on paper see immediate dividends.
Therein lies the main problem in itself. Just because Hunt is a quality football fit, doesn’t mean that the Bears should go out of their way to sign him. There’s too many layers to peel back, layers that keep building on top of themselves.
As much as it may pain some to think about, sports are and always will be a prism of society. While these meaningless games on the field, the court, wherever, can rightfully be seen as an escape from the doldrums of the world, it doesn’t change the fact they’re a very public reflection of deep set societal issues. When there are professional athletes involved in instances like violence against women, like Hunt: the acceptance involved in vouching for them and allowing them to continue to play on a prestigious, high profile platform is inherent validation of their actions to victims of similar cases. It tells the watching world that the actions of players like Hunt are okay, and meaningful change then can’t happen. Hunt isn’t the first example of these circumstances, and he won’t be the last.
The fact of the matter is, professional sports teams and athletes are role models placed in high esteem because they run really fast and throw a ball well, among other skills. They’re glorified and placed on high pedestals because they can make the daily sportscast highlight reel and have you drop your jaw, often nothing else. Ideally, it wouldn’t be this way, but we’ve gone too far to swing the pendulum back for now.
When they then step out of line, teams and players must be held accountable for their actions in recognizing what it means to not have them pay their penance, and what it means to validate them further. They need to have a responsibility to take a moral stance given their gifted standing. That goes for more than the potential thought of signing Hunt. It relates to every league, team, and athlete in existence. As cynical as I am that these money factories of franchises will ever look at anything but their bottom lines, nothing can or ever will push away that knowledge.
If it’s an uncomfortable thought process to have, it should be. Our world is still evolving and getting in tune with how we handle complex situations like domestic violence and violence against women. There’s an ongoing underlying dark underbelly that allows professional athletes to thrive merely because they can create magic with a ball in their hands, as much as it has improved in recent years. It’s being whittled away, if only extremely slowly.
The only way to shift it for the better is to continue to have these uncomfortable conversations in regards to people like Hunt, to the point where they’re accepted new norms. The only way to continue to have these uncomfortable conversations is to acknowledge the nuance involved in these cases, and whittle them down one by one. The only way we can take a meaningful stance, is by drawing a hard line against what players, no, role models, like Hunt present.
One facet that always arises in these situations is the classic “what-about-ism?” related to someone, such as myself, standing on my soapbox, criticizing the actions of a player such as Hunt, and the potential plans of an organization like the Bears swooping in. It’s a call to not be so high and mighty because not everyone is perfect.
That’s true. No one’s perfect, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise while mounting my short horse. There is no high horse to ride here. I’ve done many things I’ve regretted over the course of my short life. I’m not proud of them, but they’re a part of who I am. I know you, while reading this, have done so as well, and have slowly grown as a person every time.
The key difference in regards to you or I is that we likely absolutely had to pay our penances and suffer the consequences of our misguided decisions and actions. We paid for what we did, whatever it was, and moved on, the next mistake no doubt on the horizon being the flawed human beings we are. Most of these instances were incredibly private in the confines of our individual lives, and I’m sure that remains as such.
We didn’t have the high profile of a professional athlete like Hunt as to have the influence on so many people. We weren’t in the public eye in relation to a volatile and rampant societal issue like violence against women that dates back centuries.
Any second chances we were given to redeem ourselves weren’t deserved, they were given. Second chances in life are never deserved, especially in the context of a grave mistake like Hunt’s. It’s a platitude flawed in it’s own methodology. Second chances are only given when there’s been demonstration of a personal evolution and meaningful contrition on display, and even then: they’re not and shouldn’t be guaranteed on such zero sum, zero tolerance problems.
Kareem Hunt is a talented football player that would be an ideal fit for many NFL teams looking for an explosive offensive workhorse. That does not mean he deserves to be playing professional football again, and it’s disingenuous to say otherwise. He does not have a right to play football because he’s talented, and because he’s shown apparent remorse. The Bears shouldn’t sign him, and must reconcile with what signing would look like in every public avenue.
Second chances are a fascinating concept in our world. They’re not deserved, they’re given.
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.