How To Handle A Star Employee’s Bad Behavior: Kareem Hunt Gets Fired
While there are still five weeks left in the NFL season, I know which team I’ll be cheering for come the playoffs.
The one that just fired its star player.
On Friday, hours after a video of him assaulting a woman surfaced on the internet, the Kansas City Chiefs released star running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt, who was not only the team’s leading rusher but one of their most dynamic playmakers, will not receive any further compensation from the team.
Personally, I love this move. Hunt needed to be released, not only for the alleged incident but for misleading the team with his statements. Whatever the legal severity of the crime, when Hunt chose to lie to his employer rather than own his mistake he created a culture of mistrust that, if unaddressed, would infect the Chief’s locker room. The Chiefs said as much in their public statement when they released him after seeing the video for the first time.
“Earlier this year, we were made aware of an incident involving running back Kareem Hunt. At that time, the National Football League and law-enforcement initiated investigations into the issue. As part of our internal discussions with Kareem, several members of our management team spoke directly to him. Kareem was not truthful in those discussions. The video released today confirms that fact. We are releasing Kareem immediately.”
While some on the internet have immediately drawn comparisons to the Ray Rice incident a few years ago, there’s a more recent example that we can turn to: the San Francisco 49ers and Reuben Foster. Foster, the talented linebacker from the University of Alabama with a troubled past, was finally released by the 49ers earlier this month after yet another accusation of domestic violence.
San Francisco GM John Lynch said the team had done their best to work with Foster, giving him second and third chances to change his behavior. It finally became clear he wouldn’t. The 49ers released Foster last week—and the Washington Redskins immediately claimed him off the waiver wire. They were the only team to submit a claim.
That’s the way it goes in some organizations: talent trumps character. It’s a mercenary approach that only encourages further mercenary behavior. Leaders of organizations with a mercenary culture tend to have turbulent—and short—shelf-lives.
That’s why I love Kansas City’s direct and immediate reaction Friday. While some might argue that the Chiefs should’ve cut Hunt the moment the incident happened, the Chiefs did the right thing by pulling Hunt in for a talk to hear his side of the story, then allowing the legal system to go to work. No charges ultimately were filed, but when the video surfaced and it became clear that Hunt had lied to the team about the incident, they didn’t hesitate.
They put one of their most talented players out on his butt. And Hunt agreed the team had made the right decision.
Speaking to the Lisa Salters on NFL Countdown this weekend, Hunt said, “The Chiefs are right and I didn’t tell them everything. I don’t blame them for everything. My actions caused this. I really wish I could just apologize to them … I love the program, love the people there. I just want to take this time and better myself and not let anything happen like this ever again.”
Is Hunt really sorry for his actions? Will he really better himself? Will he get the chance to play in the NFL again?
Those are questions to which we won’t know the answer for a while.
But the one question we indisputably know the answer to is How do the Kansas City Chiefs handle star players who behave badly?
By making this choice, they have sent a LOUD message to the other players on the roster. And that answer is why I’ll be pulling for the Chiefs come January.