The cloud and confusion around the Kansas City Chiefs and Tyreek Hill can be distilled down to the interpretation of one primary question.
We all have our opinions, and we’ve certainly heard the opinions of others. Even on a national level, the Kansas City Chiefs have been the wrong kind of talking point for the last week, as the team determines what to do (or not do) with wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
If you’ve been living under a rock (or healthily unplugged on vacation), you might have missed the audio leak of a conversation between Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and his fiancee Crystal Espinal that did not reflect well on either party, especially in the wake of an ongoing investigation by Child Protective Services into allegations of child abuse and child neglect in their home. In the audio, the pair discuss the investigation, the way they discipline their children, and then Hill even, at one point, threatens Espinal with the phrase, “You need to be terrified of me, too, bitch.”
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In response, the Chiefs suspended Hill from all team activities and the typical talking heads for the Chiefs—from owner to head coach to general manager—have all expressed their disappointment in some manner. Hill responded with a statement through his lawyers denying all charges.
From that moment, the opinions began to fly. From being banned from the NFL to serving an undetermined suspension to paying a fine to nothing at all, the opinions are many. Even the timeline is a point of contention, since Hill is still gainfully employed over one week after this first broke, which has infuriated many from the gallery who wanted the Chiefs to act decisively in the moment. At this point, it’s not only about what the Chiefs will or will not do but when they will do it.
For all of the varied opinions on this complex matter, the Tyreek Hill situation will largely boil down to one question and the answers aren’t as simple as what will initially come to mind.
What is best for the Kansas City Chiefs?
The reason this question isn’t as straightforward as it seems is due to the timeline within which this whole Tyreek Hill drama falls. Let’s take a quick step back in time about five months.
Best for the team (on field)
In early December, the Kansas City Chiefs released Kareem Hunt. He was every bit a star the size of Tyreek Hill, an NFL rushing leader as a rookie destined for his second straight Pro Bowl. He was also a man who saved his best for the spotlight, putting on a clinic against the likes the Patriots in primetime. Unfortunately video showed him doing more than just dragging linebackers through the second level.
TMZ Sports obtained and released a video showing Hunt assaulting a woman from the previous February, the very reported altercation about which Hunt said he’d done nothing wrong. Officers at the time failed to press charges against Hunt or the woman, but at the time, Hunt claimed he was the victim. Given the lack of charges and the he said, she said nature of the crime, the team nor the NFL did nothing.
When the video surfaced, the Chiefs knew that their star back was not only guilty of something he’d denied but that he’d lied to the team on multiple occasions. Hunt admitted as much publicly, but it was too little, too late. The Chiefs had no way to trust Hunt from that point forward and they released him, just like so many fans with fists raised were demanding. Those fans were not wrong at all. The Chiefs had a player with a clear anger issue with multiple offseason altercations. They also could not trust him. They made their move.
From there, the Chiefs patched together the backfield and went on to miss the Super Bowl within a play or two, depending on how you view certain calls from the officials (and certainly Dee Ford‘s offsides penalty). The offense was still dynamic, but there’s a clear difference between Kareem Hunt and most NFL backs and it showed on the Chiefs roster as well. Yet the team did what they had to do and Hunt was on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
Unfortunately, the story would change with the scenery. In Kansas City, Hunt was a social pariah, a hot potato that needed to be quickly discarded to the next set of open hands. Two months later, the Cleveland Browns announced they’d signed Hunt to a one-year deal for pennies on the dollar. Instead of being lambasted by the media, instead of suffering the ire of their fans, the move was actually applauded.
It turns out that if the player doesn’t commit the crime while with your team, you can be considered a “winner” if you sign him next. And for the Chiefs, it likely meant a quick lesson learned—that perhaps if you keep your head low and wait a minute until the clouds disperse, you might not have to let your player walk for free to another team.
Best for the team (off the field)
What’s best for the team is an interesting question, because it can also refer to everything else off the field. While the game is won and lost between those hash marks, it’s silly to pretend that the Kansas City Chiefs are not much, much more than that.
The Chiefs aren’t simply a column of numbers in the standings. They are also a beloved part of the community and the greater region. The Chiefs are a heartland franchise who have been allowed into the hearts of so many children and families in the K.C. community. The Chiefs are property of Clark Hunt, yes, but they also belong to everyone.
You see it in the community that forms in the parking lot before each game. It’s in the way that tens of thousands of fans proudly fly their flags and wear their colors and sport their hats. It’s in the friends and families that gather on site or around television sets—a banner under which so many important things are brought together. It means something to all of us when a player goes to visit a school or hospital; we’re proud of players like we’re proud of our own family members.
Maybe that’s because it does feel like family. It’s even in the use of pronouns like “we” and “us”.
So when a player who has a history of domestic violence—specifically a young man who punched, choked and threw his pregnant girlfriend—joins the team in the first place, it is cause for concern. When that same player, just a few years later, has a home in which a three-year-old’s arm is broken, it is cause for outrage.
There’s a point at which the good will of an organization is lost. There’s a breaking point for each of us with the Chiefs just like there is for us in relationship with anything or anyone else. And the Chiefs have already reached that with some folks who no longer want to wrestle with the muddied ethics of rooting for a team that won’t clear the slate of the types of players they bring in.
Both sides are right
On the one hand, the betterment of the team is about keeping a winning product intact. The Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders, after all, and the phrase “winning cures everything” exists for a reason.
On the other hand, the only thing that matters here is the child and his well-being. The Chiefs need to do the right thing no matter how hard it is on the numbers—the standings or the finances.
Instead of shouting each other down, we would do well to realize that both sides of this coin have merit to them. The Chiefs were just dragged through the mud by Jason La Canfora in a column directed at team owner Clark Hunt. The CBS Sports reporter accuses Hunt of being disingenuous when he says he’s deeply disturbed by these charges against Tyreek and his fiancee. La Canfora also says the Chiefs are unwilling to do the hard thing—release Tyreek—for the sake of winning at all costs.
Note: this is the same reporter who applauded John Dorsey for signing Kareem Hunt. “Dorsey wins again,” he wrote.
Should the Chiefs have released Hill when the audio first leaked or when reports of child abuse were first linked to his home? If the answer is yes, then you have to be comfortable with seeing Tyreek Hill on another team next season after serving some undetermined suspension, a la Kareem Hunt. Instead, the Chiefs, who can still release Hill at any time, are taking their time to get the details right. If Hill’s latest response via his attorneys are correct, he might even be exonerated at some stage. At the very least, it’s within the realm of possibility.
On the flip side, some fans are quick to point out what happened with Kareem Hunt and/or state “innocent until proven guilty” without even listening to the frustration of fans ready to punt Hill to the curb. You cannot simply dismiss the optics of the situation. The Chiefs have not looked good in any of this. The risks taken when selecting players with such a troubled past are about this very moment; they are sticks of dynamite with the potential to blow up. If Hill is guilty, he has to go, and if that moment comes, the Chiefs will look even worse for not acting decisively in the moment.
Pretending as if the optics don’t matter—as if the team isn’t a beloved community entity being watched closely by other vulnerable parties and seeing how to respond responsibly—isn’t a choice here. Denying the PR side doesn’t make it go away. It just makes some fans focus on what’s convenient.
Taking their time
The impossibility of answering the question, “What is best for the team?” in a succinct manner is what is holding up this process. The answer to that answer is found both on and off the field. It’s being able to look at your youngest fans with integrity and tell them you stand for what matters most. It’s also making sure to protect the on-field product if there is, indeed, a way to do so.
It takes time to sift through the questions and answer them. It takes time to discern and act upon the right information. It takes time to investigate and confirm the chaos of cases such as these. It might be hard for Chiefs Kingdom to sit and wait for some action one way or the other regarding Tyreek Hill, but it’s the only responsible way forward.
And even for some, the Chiefs are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.