Kareem Hunt, The Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Problem With the NFL

Article Contributed by Todd Chetwell | Published on Monday, February 18, 2019

On November 30, 2018, the Kansas City Chiefs released Pro Bowl running back, Kareem Hunt, based on videos that had emerged of Hunt pushing, shoving, and eventually kicking a woman who had fallen to the floor of a Cleveland hotel. At this point, you know the story. It’s possible your fantasy lineup was blown up that day much in the manner that KC’s Super Bowl chances went down the proverbial drain. Releasing Hunt was the right thing to do and the Chiefs wasted little time. Speculation as to whether Hunt would ever play again hit the airwaves and the story lasted a few days before another wave of NFL games and drama cleansed the league of yet another negative story concerning its players’ treatment of women.

It’s a problem that is not new. In 2010, a woman alleged that Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, raped her in the bathroom of a bar in Midgeville, GA. It was the second such allegation in 2 years for the two-time Super Bowl winner. The Steelers were angry enough about their star player’s actions that they… oh wait a minute.  Let me get this straight.  The Steelers did nothing. An organization that cherished its culture enough to trade away wide receiver and Super Bowl hero, Santonio Holmes, a year earlier due to his marijuana use, stood by and allowed the NFL to administer its six-game suspension for Roethlisberger the following autumn. That was the price for sexual assault.

I’m a Steelers fan, or at least I was, and it is because of this I can already hear vast portions of Steeler Nation screaming at me from their computer, tablet, or phone. No charges were levied in the case! Neither incident led to indictment or a day in court! He may be a scumbag but he is innocent until proven guilty!  How dare you judge a man without all the facts! I hear you loud and clear.

I read the report on the Roethlisberger case in GA and was able to quickly discern just how badly the local PD botched their investigation.  I was able to follow the story and learn that both civil cases in which women alleged rape against the QB were settled out of court. For a man who would claim innocence, Big Ben certainly has done more than his fair share of buying victims’ silence.

Over the course of these years in which Ben and the Steelers have worked arduously to resuscitate his image (now a proud father and family man who buys police departments new German Shepherds every year), other members of the team have done their part to distract fans and earn their ire. Ingrates like Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown have done the unthinkable; one expected to be paid what he perceived as his market value while the other stood up to the man who has become untouchable in Pittsburgh, the very QB who not so long ago earned the cover of Sports Illustrated for being an out of control sex offender who treated fans and the media as if they were trash. If you ask an honest fan in Pittsburgh who has encountered Big Ben in the past few years, you’ll learn that his douchebagery hasn’t changed much. He’s still too good to be decent to fans on the street.  And he’s never above calling out a teammate on his radio show. He’s a “leader” of the team in every way that doesn’t count.

But let’s move on from all that.  It’s not cool to hold Ben accountable.

You may be asking yourself what in the hell any of this has to do with Kareem Hunt. Good question. On Feb 12, 2019, Hunt was forgiven enough for his actions to sign a deal with the Cleveland Browns. Ex-players like Greg Jennings were quick to defend the signing. Hunt had done his time, taking anger management classes and engaging in community service.  He deserved another chance. So did Reuben Foster, ex-inside linebacker of the San Francisco 49er’s. Foster had been released by San Fran after a second domestic abuse report surfaced in the media but was quickly scooped up by the Washington Redskins. The charges hadn’t yet been dropped at the time of his signing.

On February 16, 2019, Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown took to Twitter to answer fans’ questions about his actions since week 17 of the 2018 season. Brown did not suit up for the final game after going AWOL following a practice dispute with Roethlisberger. During his Twitter Q&A session, Brown called out Steelers ownership, coaches, and Big Ben for double standards that exist within the organization. Predictably, the local Pittsburgh media pounced on the receiver and let be known to all who would read that he was no longer welcome in the steel city. In Pittsburgh, you can hammer head coach, Mike Tomlin, and taking a shot at owner Art Rooney Jr. here and there is acceptable, but do not insinuate that Big Ben is responsible for anything.

I could ramble on. The NFL has a long history of letting players off the hook after they engage in violence or sexual assault toward women. The only real way to risk one’s career is to have clear and disturbing video evidence surface, such as what the world saw with former Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice. But, as in the case for Hunt, even video evidence doesn’t matter that much. What matters is ratings on Sundays.

The NFL will try to claim that they have worked long and hard on a number of things.  One would be player safety. Commissioner, Roger Goodell, and his minions have done a lot to address concussions since their plan to silence Dr. Bennet Omalu (the man who discovered and proved the existence of CTE, a condition that occurs in the brain after repeated injury like that which occurs in every play of a football game) failed during the first decade of this century. Another thing at which the NFL has worked long and hard, is to expect more when it comes to player conduct. The four game suspensions levied after someone behaves badly is proof enough. Especially if the player if found to be smoking marijuana.

This would be well and good if it weren’t for the fact that there is only one crime that truly impacts a player’s future in the league. Video evidence is key. That evidence is simple. If you are a quarterback, the de facto face of your franchise, you may not, under any circumstances, kneel during the national anthem. Doing so will not lead to suspension. It will not lead to explicit disciplinary action. If you engage in this activity, you simply will find yourself out of work.  Permanently. Teams like the Buffalo Bills hire quarterbacks like Nathan Peterman and actually allow them to play. Men like Peterman are safe. They may be terrible at their craft, but that’s okay. They follow the unspoken rules. But a player who dares protest something peacefully by kneeling during the anthem… good luck. If that player is not a QB, the punishment varies according to how vocal they are about the issue… and by the ownership of the team.

In the end, none of this is all that surprising. We are a country that elected a repeat sex offender to be president. Why should we hold the NFL accountable for its lack of principle and standards when it comes to the treatment of women? We don’t. It is more important to our population that black players like Antonio Brown or Le’Veon remain quiet and appreciative.  That is their place. The real thugs, scumbags like Ben Roethlisberger, should be given a pass. He doesn’t kneel.  He doesn’t protest. He doesn’t really stand for anything. And that’s the way we like it.

I, for one, won’t be watching the NFL anymore. I made a promise to my two boys of 12 and 14 years that if Kareem Hunt is signed by a team and Ben Roethlisberger is still the Steelers’ QB while Colin Kaepernick remains jobless, I would stop. I liked watching football but I don’t like what it says about me if I do. Roger Goodell won’t care if I don’t watch.  The ratings are good enough.  But he should.