The Chiefs must do some soul-searching after release of incriminating Tyreek Hill audio

Sometimes the Word document opens and the fingers just go. The story is clear in the mind and before too long it’s clear on the page, too. It’s not easy, necessarily. But it’s simple.

This is one of the other times.

Yesterday, Tyreek Hill was a football superstar on the verge of signing a massive contract. Today, he is an American tragedy.

The Chiefs are left embarrassed, their reputation as a place where second chances go to die now undeniable. The organization promotes itself as community focused. Now that reads like an awful joke.

On a day the NFL wants to celebrate hope through the NFL Draft, the Chiefs have stained themselves. When they drafted Hill three years ago, the Chiefs asked for Kansas City’s trust.

Let their next request be forgiveness.

KCTV5 released audio on Thursday that included Hill’s fiancee saying their 3-year-old son told investigators “Daddy did it,” and Hill telling the woman, “You need to be terrified of me too, bitch.”

Hill and Crystal Espinal had escaped charges just the day before, with Johnson County district attorney Stephen Howe concluding that a crime was committed against the child but that he didn’t have enough evidence to prove who did it.

That’s all different now, with a recording apparently made as an insurance policy given to the TV station.

Late Thursday night, Chiefs GM Brett Veach announced Hill is suspended from team activities “for the foreseeable” future. If he is not cut and punished further by the NFL, well, that column will be easy.

But at the moment, here is what we have: an abused little boy, charges likely on the way, and a young family broken by violence.

This was already Hill’s second chance. When the Chiefs drafted him three years ago this week, he was on probation after pleading guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation against Espinal, who was pregnant with their son at the time.

Many in Kansas City were furious, but Hill came to the Chiefs draped in humility, his words short, his eyes often unable to make contact. He had convinced everyone in the building, too. His supernatural talent was certainly part of that — Hill is known as the league’s fastest player, and he has become one of its top receivers.

But it was more than that. He completed his court-ordered probation without incident, never missing a meeting, not just going through every program assigned to him but seeming to appreciate the purpose.

That’s what Chiefs officials and coaches thought, anyway. That’s why they budgeted on making him the league’s highest-paid receiver, even after these new investigations opened. Hill was adamant to the team that he did nothing wrong.

Hill and Espinal have an apparently toxic relationship, and there is little doubt that Espinal shares some blame now. The financial motivation is impossible to ignore, but at the very least she appears to have incriminated herself in the released audio by covering for Hill over the most basic and immediate needs of their child.

The Chiefs have a history of employing players with domestic assault backgrounds, most notably and tragically with Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend and then killing himself in the team facility’s parking lot.

Last fall, the Chiefs were rocked by a video that showed star running back Kareem Hunt kicking a woman in the hallway of a hotel. They released him immediately, with chairman Clark Hunt issuing a statement citing not just the violence but that “Kareem was not truthful” about the incident.

When the investigation involving Hill opened, club officials kept their belief in Hill. Maybe it was hope, but they made a distinction. Hunt had not been truthful and left other clues in his time here that he might again find trouble. With Hill, they had none of that.

Now, that’s all been exposed.

This is worse than Hunt’s incident in every way. The picture painted with the released audio of Hill is more gruesome than the leaked video of Hunt. The violence is more disturbing, the victim a small and helpless child.

The truth is that Hill will almost certainly play again in the NFL. It can’t be here, with this franchise, but it will be somewhere. He’s 25 years old and supremely talented. The NFL is a business.

But there is so much work to be done between now and then. Hill needs more than a release from the Chiefs, and even more than whatever punishment is coming to him from the league and legal system. He needs help. The same is true of Espinal. Their son and their twins who are due soon are left needing a different kind of help.

The Chiefs need to own their role in this, too. This is not a call for them to avoid players with any hint of past problems. The truth is that’s not realistic for any NFL team, and none of us should dismiss the potential of second chances.

But the Chiefs need to rethink their approach and above all else rid themselves forever of the notion that “due diligence” by a scouting staff can predict the future or be reliable enough to ask for public trust. Some humility is in order.

The Chiefs have been part of the problem. They can now choose to be part of the solution. That would require a reset of how they consider players, but more importantly an effort to educate themselves and the public on how to understand and help prevent violence and support victims. That should have happened after the Belcher incident, and it should have happened after Kareem Hunt.

If they can’t do that now, and be transparent and sincere in the process, then when will they?

Don't have a KC Star subscription? Help support our sports coverage

If you already subscribe to The Star, thanks for your support. If not, our digital sports-only subscription is just $30 per year. It's your ticket to everything sports in Kansas City ... and beyond, and helps us produce sports coverage like this.
Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat

Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.