Clark Hunt has a problem.
He has an abuse problem. He has a domestic violence problem. He has a culture problem. He has a leadership problem.
It's not the Kansas City Chiefs. It's Hunt.
When it comes to the sordid, horrible, disgusting string of events that have haunted this franchise since Dec. 1, 2012 – when linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his 22-year old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then shot himself in the head in the team's parking lot – to the present, when the Chiefs held a press conference Friday to introduce a recently-acquired player who was arrested for domestic violence in college (Frank Clark) one day after the chilling audio was released strongly implicating receiver Tryeek Hill in the extreme abuse of his 3-year-old child – look no further than the owner of the team.
On matters such as this, there is no "team." There is no "Kansas City Chiefs." There is one individual who pays everyone else and decides who stays and who goes, and when they get kicked out. In the last six-plus years, coaches and general managers and front office executives have come and gone. Hunt is the constant. He is the authority. And he has not come close to showing an ability to steward his franchise with a modicum of class or sensitivity when it comes to domestic violence and abuse.
Hunt oversaw the decision to play football one day after Belcher's murder/suicide. He oversaw the drafting of Hill – a player many of his peers refused to include on their draft boards because of Hill's sentencing for a heinous assault of his pregnant girlfriend, Crystal Espinal, in college, that police say included hitting her in the face, choking her and punching her in the stomach. Hunt oversaw the team's inquiry into Kareem Hunt's assault of a female last offseason and the subsequent decision to allow him to practice and play as normal as the NFL botched another "investigation" into the assault of a woman.
Hunt oversaw the decision to allow Hill to report for offseason work despite the ongoing investigation into his role in the assault of a 3-year old. Hunt oversaw the mealy-mouthed press releases pledging how "deeply disturbed" the organization is about all of this, while the authorities said they believed a crime was committed by one of the parents and removed this child from Hill's custody. Hunt oversaw the decision to send Hill home indefinitely, but not release him, after audio was released on Thursday of the receiver making threats to Espinal and admitting to routinely punching that 3-year old and of a child saying "daddy did it" and despite Hill being denied even supervised visitation with his son.
When the District Attorney's office announced it was re-opening its investigation of Hill following the release of those tapes, Hunt did nothing. He signed off on a press conference welcoming Clark, who was prosecuted on domestic violence charges in 2014, to Kansas City on Friday, but didn't bother to sit up there and actually take any questions himself, allowing coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach to try to deflect inevitable questions about Hill's situation. And then Hunt seemingly focused on the more important business of the NFL draft, and now another week begins with his franchise embroiled in an ongoing debacle.
One might think that a crime as extreme as what Belcher, a player with no history of prior violence, perpetrated would lead to take a stronger position on domestic abuse. One would expect that some tangible changes in the workplace would be enacted by those in charge, and that any inference of previous history of abuse might be a disqualifier for working for the Kansas City Chiefs. Perhaps, out of a calling of sorts, but, at the very least, for the sake of public relations and brand savviness.
Hunt, repeatedly, has opted to go in the opposite direction. It's truly appalling when you think about it. A zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence would have been the expectation long before now, yet the Chiefs take as many character risks as any organization in football and it goes way beyond former general manager John Dorsey. It runs much deeper than that. No one could blame Hunt for what these men have done, but the fact it keeps happening in this locker room is beyond a coincidence now. Hunt's franchise hasn't shunned known abusers; it has embraced them and stood by them and been willing to pay them over and over again.
Sure, the owner eventually cut Kareem Hunt, but only after video of the star kicking a woman in the hallway outside of his apartment was released, and even then not merely for the act itself, but because "Kareem was not truthful" to Chiefs management about his actions, the owner said in a statement at the time. And not a thing changed since then. According to the league's own media arm, Hunt was going to pull out his checkbook for a record-setting extension for Hill prior to him being investigated for another assault. And four months after releasing Hunt, the owner, desperate for pass rush, gave Clark, whose interactions with a female reporter on Twitter just two years ago drew national attention for all the wrong reasons, over $60M in guarantees at the very moment Hill's actions were still being sorted out by the law. He couldn't even bother to wait until there was closure or certainty with Hill.
This is what owners who are "deeply disturbed" about domestic violence and child abuse do? Really? In the aftermath of the Belcher's grizzly acts, these are the lessons learned? This falls at Hunt's desk. These are his calls to make. And he has failed. Miserably. Consistently.
Say what you want about the way the Ravens handled the Ray Rice situation overall (and the Ravens botched most of it, badly, including owner Steve Bisciotti's press conference), but at the very least, in the aftermath of that video surfacing, the team has avoided players who have any known history of domestic abuse. In Baltimore, and several other franchises, in a post-Ray Rice NFL, it became much more difficult to bring such players into their building.
In Kansas City, despite a murder/suicide at the team facility, that is not the case. Once Hill is eventually released – even for Hunt, that seems inevitable by any measure – after being placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List or whatever mechanism the NFL applies, Hunt and the league will move on.
I'm probably not the only one dismayed by how Roger Goodell and the NFL continue to address these matters, basically ignoring Hill's situation over the weekend until after the draft, lest those distractions get in the way of that huge party in Nashville. We already know the NFL is adrift in trying to investigate and adjudicate these cases, from Greg Hardy to Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson to Josh Brown to Zeke Elliott to Kareem Hunt to Hill. So hiding behind the league office and waiting for Park Avenue to sort it out will do you no favors, and it's not a salient excuse. And, I'm sorry, but TMZ isn't going to secure video evidence of every high-profile NFL assault case, lest that be the threshold for real action.
So your guess is as good as mine as to where Hunt goes from here. Trying to enact some sort of tough talk or zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence even after Hill's departure seems implausible, given the financial commitment he literally just made to Clark. Whenever he does take questions next – one would assume after Hill is released – selling anyone that the Chiefs are suddenly tough on abusers seems impossible to me. Taking known criminals off the draft board might be the very least they can do moving forward. Getting away from a win-at-all-costs mentality might make some sense as part of an inward-thinking reboot.
But save that "deeply disturbed" stuff. What's deeply disturbing is how Hunt has responded to these issues since 2012. Actions speak louder than words in the face of repeated crisis. And Hunt's recent silence is even more damning than the hollow words in his press release.