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If Hunt helps instead of hurts people, signing is a win

By MARY KAY CABOT • Feb 13, 2019 at 9:00 AM

CLEVELAND — If the Browns can help Kareem Hunt become an asset to his hometown instead of another member of his family behind bars, his controversial signing by John Dorsey will go down as a victory.

A devout Catholic, Dorsey believes in redemption and second chances. He believes he can look into the eyes of a player and see his soul. The many times he’s looked into Hunt’s eyes since he began to scout him in 2016 for the Chiefs, he’s seen a good man and not the one who was captured on video almost a year ago shoving and kicking a woman in a hallway at the Metropolitan at The 9 in downtown Cleveland.

Dorsey, who selected Hunt in the third round of the 2017 draft out of Toledo, believes that his willingness to save troubled players might also be his biggest flaw. But his faith won’t have it any other way.

He also knows that Hunt is a product of his rough upbringing, and that it’s a wonder he’s not a victim of the streets, a drug dealer like so many in his family, or wearing a different kind of orange uniform by now.

Just a few weeks ago, Hunt’s father, Kareem Hunt, 47, was arrested in Elyria on charges of drug trafficking, and admitted to selling crack cocaine and marijuana. It was nothing new for “Big Kareem,’’ who had already been arrested at least 35 times in northeast Ohio, including multiple times for domestic violence, according to an in-depth piece in December by USA Today Sports’ Josh Peter. The elder Hunt has been sentenced to nine years in prison over the years for nine felony convictions, mostly on drug-related offenses. He’s also been in and out of jail for lesser charges.

But his dad wasn’t the only one who set a bad example for “Little Kareem.’’ Almost everyone he looked up to — an older brother, his stepfather, uncles and cousins — are either just out of prison or still in it, mostly on drug-related offenses but one for voluntary manslaughter. Even his mother, Stephanie Riggins, was arrested in 2014 on charges of cocaine possession and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. She opted for rehab in lieu of a jail time.

“He’s a miracle," Hunt’s cousin Lorenzo Hunt, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2004 for aggravated robbery, told USA Today. “For Kareem to make it, it’s not just validation for him, it’s validation for all of us who tried our hardest and failed or succumbed to bad situations and poverty.

"All we know is to fight. To see Little Kareem get out of there, we never even saw that he had so much of us in him until we saw how he fights for the other yard, how he fights for the extra inch, how he never quits no matter (if) you got 300-pound linemen holding on to you, trying to drag you down. He never stops. That’s us. That’s a Hunt.’’

Hunt’s mother, for whom he bought a house in westside suburb of Amherst after being drafted, moved him out of crime-ridden Elyria as a boy, and into a better environment in Willoughby, Ohio. Amazingly, Hunt, 23, mostly stayed out of trouble, except for one stop by police with friends who had marijuana that resulted in no charges, and a two-game suspension during his junior year at Toledo for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Dorsey found Hunt to be “a neat kid’’ when was scouting him, and didn’t hesitate to draft him despite his family history. Toledo’s all-time leading rusher with 4,945 yards, Hunt rewarded the former Chiefs GM by leading the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie and earning Pro Bowl honors. Last season, before the video surfaced on Nov. 30 and the Chiefs waived him, Hunt was off to another torrid start, with 824 yards rushing, 378 receiving and 14 touchdowns in 11 games.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Dorsey has taken a gamble on a player who committed violence against a woman. In 2016, he drafted Oklahoma State receiver Tyreek Hill in the fifth round despite a conviction for choking and punching his then-pregnant girlfriend. Dorsey received the same backlash then, but Hill, a three-time Pro Bowler, has been as much of a model citizen off the field as a star on it.

In August, Hill’s domestic abuse conviction was dismissed and expunged after he completed terms of his three-year probation, which included anger management courses and a 52-week batterer’s intervention program. He established a foundation to help underprivileged children, and earned the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP weekly award in September for his work at a food pantry. He also became engaged in September to his son’s mother, Crystal Espinal, whom he had assaulted.

“It shows what God can do,’’ Hill told the Kansas City Star. “He can take a young man and He can transform him. He can transform him into a positive role model, a positive influence on the community. I’m just blessed to be in the position that I’m in. Chiefs obviously gave me an opportunity, so I’m going to use my platform each and every day to change lives.”

If Hunt can follow in Hill’s footsteps and not only change his own life but that of others, the signing will not have been in vain.

Of course, he must work hard to atone for what Dorsey described as his “egregious’’ actions in the hallway that night, and two other altercations the NFL is investigating, one at a Put-In-Bay resort in June and another at a Kansas City nightclub in January, 2018. Hunt is attending anger management and alcohol awareness classes, and faces a suspension that will soon be levied by the NFL.

If Hunt is truly remorseful, he can donate money to victims of domestic abuse and speak out at local schools. He might even talk to Hill about making restitution and amends. If he becomes a better man the way Dorsey believes he can, he can be a role model for children and inspire them to overcome their dire circumstances.

He’ll likely have to change his group of friends here and be wary of family members who don’t have his best interests at heart. With Dorsey establishing a zero-tolerance policy for further transgressions, he’ll have to find new role models and avoid temptations. Depending on the plan laid out for him by the NFL and the Browns, he might have to abstain from alcohol and other high-risk behaviors.

But with all the Browns’ resources available to him and with his own stated commitment to wellness, Hunt has an opportunity to go from someone who has hurt people to one who now helps them. What’s more, it can happen in his hometown, where he can change the family dynamic and become a community asset.

That would be a victory not only for the Browns, but for Hunt, for victims of violence and for everyone he helps in the future.

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