It’s true that the Chiefs cut Kareem Hunt, and he’ll play for the Browns against his former team in their NFL divisional playoff matchup. That has created a redemption story narrative for some before Sunday’s game.
“Kept telling the guys, I got a feeling we’re gonna see them in the playoffs,” Hunt said Thursday. “I knew they were gonna make it to the playoffs, that’s a terrific program over there. I just kept telling them early in the season, we got to make it to the playoffs, we’ve got to make a run and I’ve got a feeling we’re gonna see the Chiefs.”
Kansas City released Hunt in 2018 when video emerged of him appearing to kick and shove a woman. Kansas City said it knew about the incident but that Hunt hadn’t been fully truthful about what had occurred. Hunt’s subsequent release was the correct choice for the Chiefs given the circumstances Hunt himself created.
Hunt apparently doesn’t see it that way. In an Instagram Live video Sunday after the Browns beat Pittsburgh, Hunt repeated multiple times that the upcoming matchup with Kansas City is “personal.”
Cleveland-area NFL analyst Tony Grossi doubled down after Hunt’s comments. He tweeted Monday, “Forgot about this angle: Kareem Hunt returns to Kansas City seeking to topple the team that gave up on him.”
Here’s what Hunt’s current and former teammates have been saying ahead of Browns vs. Chiefs.
Kareem Hunt: ‘Next week’s personal’
The Chiefs selected Hunt in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Toledo, and he took the NFL by storm, leading the league in rushing yards as a rookie with 1,327 yards. He played the first 11 games of the 2018 season, too, running for another 824 yards.
But between his first and second seasons, Hunt was involved in an incident with a woman, Abigail Ottinger, according to her account to the Cleveland Police Department. Ottinger told police that Hunt “pushed and shoved her.” Hunt also allegedly punched a man in the face in June after a verbal dispute, according to TMZ.
The Chiefs said later they knew about Hunt’s incident with Ottinger, but they also said that the security camera footage released in November made Hunt’s discussions with them look less truthful. Kansas City quickly released Hunt after the video was released, with footage showing him kicking and shoving a woman.
When the Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl, Hunt could be heard telling a police officer during a speeding stop that it “hurts my soul” that the Chiefs were in the big game without him.
“I think that’s going to permeate for our guys, as well,” Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said during the week, per Cleveland.com, “and they’re going have those same feelings and want to play for him. It’s like the give-and-take of Kareem is hurt that they’re in the Super Bowl, and he was cheering for his guys but you know he wanted to be there. That’s why he comes to work every day and works his ass off to try and get there with us now.”
The Browns signed Hunt in February 2019, and after he served an eight-game suspension in 2019, he’s been the second piece to a dynamic backfield with Nick Chubb. Cleveland’s 2019 season was a disappointment, but with Chubb and Hunt dominant in 2020, the Browns made their first playoffs since 2002 and won their first playoff game since 1994 to set up a game against the top-seeded Chiefs in the divisional round.
Hunt ran for 48 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh in the wild-card round win, and he hopped on Instagram Live after the game, twice proclaiming: “Next week’s personal.”
“Kareem talked about this game all year like he knew it was going to happen,’’ Browns running back Nick Chubb said during the week, per Cleveland.com. “He’s excited for it. I’m excited for him. I’m excited to watch him go out there and play. He’s ready for it.”
What the Chiefs are saying about Kareem Hunt
Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Andy Reid have all been asked about Hunt’s upcoming matchup against his former team. Hunt had his league-leading rushing year during Mahomes’ MVP 2018 season with Reid at the helm, too.
“He has a lot of success on that field every opportunity he gets and he’s a great football player and someone that I know will keep getting better and better as his career goes on,’’ Mahomes said on KCSP 610 in Kansas City. “He’s a special football player. He finishes every single play, he catches and runs, he can do it all. I’m happy for him that he’s back home in Cleveland and he’s able to play really good football.’’
Reid, too, kept the focus of his answer on what Hunt can do on the football field.
“Listen, I like Kareem,’’ Reid said in a Monday press conference. “I’m glad things are going well for him. He knows a lot of the guys that were on that team last year and felt bad about not being a part of that. I get all of that. But most of all, I’m happy for him that things are going in the right direction for him. He’s on a good football team, they’re well-coached and they won their first playoff game. There’s something to be said about that.’’
Kelce’s comments suggested Hunt has overcome adversity since his release.
“I wish we spoke more often,’’ Kelce said, via Cleveland.com. “That’s my brother for life. To see what he’s gone through and to see him grow from everything. I’m somebody who had a few red flags coming out of college. It wasn’t always a whole lot of fun for me. I had to break through some things that were tied to my name. With that, you have to challenge yourself as a man, as a human.
“You have to grow from it, understand how people are viewing you, and you have to move on knowing that. I think Kareem has done an unbelievable job of just going out there, playing football and keeping his head on straight. I’m happy as hell for him.”
The Chiefs didn’t ‘give up’ on Kareem Hunt
Despite what Cleveland radio and TV personality Tony Grossi tweeted, the Chiefs didn’t give up on Hunt.
No one gave up on Hunt. His release was just the effect of a cause: His incident with Ottinger and the subsequent release of the video showing it. That’s not giving up. It’s responding in kind.
And so no matter what anyone says about redemption or revenge, there aren’t any redeeming qualities to Hunt’s game against the Chiefs. His performance won’t suddenly make Kansas City feel foolish for releasing him or make Hunt seem like a changed man. It’ll just be a running back playing a football game against his former team, nothing truly “personal” about it.