Vahe Gregorian

By hoping Kareem Hunt issue goes away, Chiefs have made it linger longer

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt on Kareem Hunt: ‘We were shocked by the video’

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt spoke publicly to reporters on Dec. 9, 2018 for first time since the team waived running back Kareem Hunt in the wake of a TMZ video release which showed him shoving and kicking a young woman in a Cleveland hotel.
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Chiefs owner Clark Hunt spoke publicly to reporters on Dec. 9, 2018 for first time since the team waived running back Kareem Hunt in the wake of a TMZ video release which showed him shoving and kicking a young woman in a Cleveland hotel.

Here it was, yet another amazing occasion in an increasingly intriguing season Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium: The Chiefs beat Baltimore 27-24 in overtime because of things like Patrick Mahomes mad-libbing to find Tyreek Hill for 48 yards … on fourth and 9 … with less than two minutes left in regulation … while trailing by a touchdown.

So the Chiefs improved to 11-2 and enhanced their chances at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and clinched a playoff spot for the fifth time in six seasons under Andy Reid. Quite a day.

For all that, it was a shame the Kareem Hunt saga still hovers over it all — something for which the Chiefs have only themselves to blame.

They want it to disappear so badly that they’ve made it linger longer.

Nine days after Hunt was waived with a robotic statement that focused not on what he had done — shove and kick a woman on video obtained by TMZ from a February incident that no one investigated responsibly at the time — but the fact that he had lied to the Chiefs, owner and CEO Clark Hunt finally was made available to the media and took questions on the matter.

But only because the Chiefs won, mind you, and clinched a playoff spot — one of the few times a year Clark Hunt is accessible.

That in itself is a telling statement about the distance the Chiefs keep when transparency and accountability is what fans deserve, especially in times of controversy and strife.

Standing up and being counted immediately was the way to demonstrate how seriously they took what happened and, more practically, to help turn the page sooner.

Meanwhile, even with all this time to prepare, Clark Hunt belatedly said only some of the stuff that should have been addressed right away — and had one particularly puzzling gap in his responses.

When I asked him if it was his decision to release Kareem Hunt and what statement the Chiefs were trying to make, here’s what he said:

“It was a collective decision; everybody was on board with it. I don’t think we were necessarily trying to make a statement. We just felt that the best thing for the Kansas City Chiefs moving forward was for us to part ways with Kareem. We were obviously shocked by the video, like anybody who saw it, and we’d had some issues with Kareem not being truthful with what happened that night. And we just really felt for everybody’s best interests we needed to head in a different direction.”

Later, he was asked about what the message was to Kareem Hunt when they last spoke:

“Well, I think the most important thing for Kareem is that he get some counseling that can help him with his issues. And I heard today that there was a report that he was going to do that, and certainly we wish the best for Kareem in the future. I hope that at some point he’s able to come back to the National Football League, not sure when that will be. But our message to him was that even though we’re having to part ways with you today, we’re still supportive of you. And if you need us to get you some help off the field, we’re willing to do that.”

Fair enough. But something sure was missing from his messages — an expression of concern for the actual victim instead of for Kareem Hunt.

Now, I’m certain that Clark Hunt has compassion for Kareem Hunt’s victim and deplores what he saw and detests violence against women.

So why is it so hard to say that directly?

Are the Chiefs so lawyered up that they can’t just make an important statement of the obvious or find some way to hack through the semantics of privacy and be strong leaders on this?

If not, why?

Beyond that, why don’t they feel like it’s their duty to the community to shed direct light on some basics?

Like this: How it is that Kareem Hunt could have been accused of being involved in three different violent episodes in a six-month span, episodes Clark Hunt acknowledged they knew about, and feel fine about him being on this team coming into the season?

Maybe there are mitigating reasons they kept him. And/or maybe he actually was in some sort of counseling or on some kind of disciplinary track. When Clark Hunt spoke in St. Joseph in August, when the January incident at Mosiac was not publicly known, perhaps he was hinting that the Chiefs were taking action when he said “I’m sure he learned some lessons this offseason and, hopefully, won’t be in those kinds of situations in the future.”

Trouble is, it’s easier to read his words that day as shrugging off the pattern. Some actual elaboration or insight could make a big difference in perception, wouldn’t it?

Meanwhile, it’s easy to see how the Chiefs have dealt with this as a pattern in itself: In his first comments about it last Sunday after the game at Oakland, coach Andy Reid suggested the 67-word statement Friday had covered it completely and barely addressed it himself.

A day later, he spent a moment or two on it. And by Wednesday, the first time Reid was available after the news about the Mosaic incident had emerged, he was shutting down any questions about Kareem Hunt.

The next day, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy opened his weekly news conference by announcing he wouldn’t speak about Kareem Hunt because “Coach Reid has addressed that. He’s done a great job. He’s set the tone with you guys.”

Sure did. Which has basically become the Chiefs way, albeit an NFL tendency, when it comes to just about anything difficult.

In wrongly assuming they are doing damage control, they are doing themselves — and fans — a disservice.

Clark Hunt spoke with the media for about 7 minutes on Sunday, about half of it on Kareem Hunt, before the interview was closed down while some still had questions.

In that span, he did allow as how the Chiefs expect players to be good citizens and that they — and presumably the NFL — could improve at both vetting players and investigating incidents.

“So we’re certainly going to try to get better,” he said, “but I don’t think you can ever be perfect in that regard.”

They can be better in being more open and clear in their leadership, too, and the win-win is that they’d only help themselves.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.