Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill has already made an impression on the field just four games into his rookie season. But it’s his past off the field that has drawn the Chiefs into the controversy concerning how the NFL deals with players who commit domestic violence.
The NFL has been under fire for how it handles its domestic abuse offenders. The controversy surfaced in Kansas City on the NFL Draft’s second day last April when the Chiefs chose Tyreek Hill in the fifth round.
By NFL standards, he was not tall enough to be considered a first or second round pick, but he is extremely fast. Another reason Hill dropped to the fifth round was due to his past. Two years ago Hill pleaded guilty to punching and strangling his pregnant girlfriend, and he received three years of probation.
Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey promptly addressed the move, which was unusual because he talked about it before draft’s conclusion.
“I would never put this community in any type of situation where I knew it would not be good,” Dorsey said. The Chiefs also claimed that they did their due diligence on checking Hill’s background.
Hill had played for Oklahoma State. In addition to the legal consequences he eventually faced, he was kicked off the team immediately. He then took a circuitous route to West Alabama, where the Chiefs continued to be impressed with how fast he could run.
Still on probation, Hill reported for the Chiefs off-season workouts last spring. He expressed remorse about the incident.
“I did something wrong. I just let my emotions get the best of me and I shouldn’t have did it” Hill said.
On the NFL’s opening weekend, Hill heard the cheers at Arrowhead Stadium after scoring his first touchdown as a professional player on a nine-yard pass from quarterback Alex Smith.
But some fans are concerned that the cheers drown out the trauma felt by the victims of domestic violence. April French, a teacher and a cheerleading coach in Oklahoma, got to know the victim, Crystal Espinal, as her coach. French says there’s nothing to cheer about, “I just have to put myself in the victim’s position and think, ‘Oh, gosh.’ It just makes me sad.”
French described Espinal’s personality as “fun, outgoing, (and) very positive.
Espinal has declined to be interviewed. In fact, she won’t talk about the subject even with her friends, according to LaVina Spotted Bear Clark, who has worked as a domestic violence victim advocate in Oklahoma. Clark says she has known Espinal for a long time and wants Hill to publicly answer the question: Why did he do it?
“I don’t think anybody will be asking him that because right now he’s such a great football player, and I say that through gritted teeth,” says Clark.
The Chiefs still have not said whether or not they reached out to the victim. However, Chiefs president Mark Donovan says meetings have taken place in the last few months between the team and area domestic violence agencies.
“We wanted to create awareness where we could, of all of their programs, but also try to make sure that whatever we do with them is something that will impact them all,” says Donovan.
But nothing concrete has been worked out.
The drafting of Hill isn’t the first time the Chiefs have been entangled with the domestic violence issue. It only serves as a painful reminder to what tragically happened, Dec. 1, 2012, when linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins before shooting himself in the parking lot of the Chiefs practice facility a short time later.
Still, the NFL didn’t step up its stance against domestic violence until two years later. That’s when millions of people saw a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching the woman who is now his wife. Rice was suspended and has not played since.
For first-time offenders, the NFL stiffened its penalty with a six-game suspension. Activist LaVina Spotted Bear Clark says, “That’s a good step in the right direction. But what consequences have these players had until now? The victims have had some consequences that’s not their own choosing.”
Because Hill’s offense occurred while in college, he wasn’t subjected to an NFL suspension when the Chiefs drafted him. So he will continue to hear cheers after a big play. Advocates like Clark say that if there is anything good that has come out of Hill’s past, it’s that people continue to talk about domestic violence.
Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3. Reach him on Twitter @GregEchlin.