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Roger Goodell has chosen to do this the hard way.
It’s also the right way.
No sooner had the NFL announced its eight-game suspension for Kareem Hunt than the howls began. It was a harsher ban than Ezekiel Elliott got – much harsher if you count the five games Hunt missed after the Kansas City Chiefs cut him. But it wasn’t a permanent ban, or even the season-long suspension some thought appropriate because of the shocking level of Hunt’s violence and his tendency for it.
It satisfied no one, really. Which is the point.
Goodell could certainly make his life easier if he simply set a standard ban for violent behavior. Domestic abuse, bar fights, road rage – it’s automatically eight games. No questions asked, no understanding given.
That, however, wouldn’t do anything except satisfy the folks who want their pound of flesh. Violence is a symptom of a deeper problem, and standard bans do nothing to address that. When it’s a case of domestic violence, harsh punishments that offer little to no chance for rehabilitation might actually cause more harm.
You can argue that players are gaming the system, knowing their bans will be shorter if they simply cooperate with the NFL and agree not to appeal. By taking cases on an individual basis, however, examining what happened and the factors that led to it, Goodell and the NFL have the chance to make a real difference.
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Not for a talented football player in the prime of his career or the team paying his salary, but for the young man who will spend far more of his life off the field than he will on it.
“He has committed to take advantage of available resources to help him grow personally and as a member of the Cleveland community, and to live up to his obligations as an NFL player,” the NFL said in its statement on Hunt, who signed with the Cleveland Browns last month.
Hunt’s ban stems from a February 2018 argument with a woman at his apartment building. There’s a video that shows the running back shoving the woman and kicking her while she’s on the ground. While this wasn’t domestic abuse – Hunt didn’t know the woman he assaulted – it doesn’t excuse the behavior.
More troubling, however, is that this was not an isolated incident. In announcing the suspension, the NFL also referred to a June fight at an Ohio resort, where Hunt punched a man. Though the NFL didn’t include it, Hunt also was named in a Kansas City police report by a man who claimed the running back and another member of the Chiefs beat him up at a nightclub in January 2018.
Taken together, the assaults indicate that Hunt has problems, be it with anger management, alcohol or both.There are root causes for that, and ignoring them does nothing to help Hunt make substantive changes to his life. Changes that will not only benefit him, but help break the cycle of violence that would likely otherwise continue.
Hunt began counseling for alcohol and anger management after he was cut by the Chiefs, and Browns general manager John Dorsey indicated after Hunt was signed that that would continue.
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Again, this doesn’t excuse what Hunt has done. But eight games, plus the roughly $130,000 in salary he lost when he was cut last year, are not insignificant. Of greater significance is the help the NFL and the Browns are providing Hunt.
“My commitment to earning the trust of the league, my teammates, the organization and this community through my actions will continue,” Hunt said in a statement released by the Browns, “and I understand there is a lot of hard work ahead of me before I’m able to fully return to playing the game I love.”
There’s a fine line between enabling bad behavior and giving someone the chance to right his wrongs. Goodell might not always wind up on the right side of it, but at least he’s trying to find it.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.