In a somewhat strange and haunting confluence of events, the Ravens are preparing to face Kansas City in the aftermath of the Chiefs’ decision to release star running back Kareem Hunt.
It’s just a coincidence, of course, that the schedule has drawn the two teams together soon after a TMZ video was released last week confirming Hunt shoved and kicked a woman at a Cleveland hotel in February.
The Ravens have gotten beyond the 2014 Ray Rice elevator attack in Atlantic City that tarnished the image of the franchise and exposed the NFL’s grossly inadequate response to a series of incidents and accusations of domestic violence by players. But the comparisons are too obvious to prevent them from being part of the build-up to a game Sunday with such obvious playoff implications for the Ravens.
That’s the last thing that coach John Harbaugh wants to be talking to the media about, and he was reluctant to make the comparisons during his Monday news conference. When he was asked whether he could empathize with the Chiefs and coach Andy Reid, he said, “I think that's just their situation. I didn't give it too much thought, to be honest with you.”
And yet, it’s relevant because everything that has dragged the NFL into the harsh glare of controversy over the past few years is interconnected.
Rice paid for that ugly moment with his football career. He eventually became eligible to play again, but his performance was already on a downward arc when the incident occurred and no NFL team was willing to give him another chance.
Hunt is a very young superstar who will undoubtedly receive a much more severe penalty from the league than the ridiculously inadequate two-game suspension levied upon Rice before the second of two damning videos was released showing him punching the mother of his child. And Hunt will likely get an opportunity to resume his career once he has served a suspension that could stretch through next season.
If you doubt there is an NFL team out there that will give him a second chance, you haven’t been paying attention. The San Francisco 49ers released linebacker Reuben Foster 10 days ago after his arrest on domestic violence charges and he was claimed off waivers by the Washington Redskins two days later.
Nobody claimed Hunt when he passed through waivers Monday — showing again the power of video evidence to raise the public relations antennae of the NFL — but he’ll be a hot property whenever he becomes available because, well, he’s that good.
Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick sits at home because he hurt all our feelings when he decided he didn’t want to stand for the national anthem.
And, yes, if you’re still wondering, that’s why all of this is interconnected. We live in a professional sports world where your second chances depend on whether you can generate revenue for the league or are likely to endanger it.
Kaepernick clearly falls into the latter category. The league-wide protests that followed his decision to sit (and eventually kneel) during the anthem sparked national outrage and produced a direct impact on NFL attendance.
That’s not an opinion. It’s a clearly observable fact that has been seen at M&T Bank Stadium since the London debacle and also explains why the beautiful new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta wasn’t full for Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Falcons.
Let’s review: Ravens fans gave Rice a big ovation when he took the field for their public workout in July 2014, five months after being charged with assault for hitting his now-wife in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. Now, thousands of them still boycott home games at M&T Bank Stadium because many of the team’s African-American players knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner” before last year’s game in London to protest racial injustice.
Never mind that the right to protest is the most visible proof that we live in a free society. (And, yes, the right to protest against someone else’s protest falls in the same category.) It’s just interesting to note where we — as a society and as sports fans — are willing to draw a red line and where we are willing to look the other way if it helps our side win.
And now for the final irony: The Chiefs’ decision to immediately release Hunt will give the Ravens a much better chance to beat them Sunday, which would give the Ravens a much better chance to make the playoffs and — presumably — lure back some more disaffected fans to M&T Bank Stadium for the final two home games of the season.
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