How the NFL failed Tyreek Hill (even after not suspending him)

Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Despite the fact that the NFL came down with nary a punishment of any kind, the league still failed Tyreek Hill all the same. Here’s how.

There’s the conversation we are having, the conversation we’re glad we’re not having, and the one we should be having. It’s the latter that draws my concern.

On Friday, the conversation surrounding Tyreek Hill shifted from one we’re glad we’re not having—e.g. anything to do with time served—to the present one we’re having when the National Football League announced the lack of any punishment of any kind for the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver. No fine would be levied. No suspension would be served. He can report, just like any and every other player, to Chiefs camp in less than one week.

After an offseason filled with investigative updates, personal conversations broadcast in public, and numerous recitations of Hill’s violent past, the NFL weighed all evidence and decided nothing punishable happened on Hill’s part. The main concern on their end was whether or not he violated the Personal Conduct Policy. The answer came back negative, and an offseason’s worth of conjecture was whittled to nothing.

If what was presented on Hill’s behalf is true—and this is the disclaimer here—Hill has to be pleased with the present. He shouldn’t be. He deserves a much better conversation.

The present conversation

In the present, it has to feel good, of course, to feel like the worst of a rollercoaster of an offseason is over. Sure, family court remains firmly entrenched in the lives of Hill, Crystal Espinal and his family, but that’s a far cry from cops prying into his business. He’d met with NFL authorities. He’d waited in silence while authorities did their work. He’d stayed away from social media even as he likely knew about the number of talking heads sharing rumors left and right.

Hill can, finally, focus on football once again. As long as he’s following protocol, he can get back to working out, running routes, hanging with teammates, and keeping family matters private. Perhaps, for now, he’s happy with these conversations.

But again, he should not be. In fact, Hill deserves a much better one, because some people won’t allow Hill to go back to any sort of “normal.” That’s the NFL’s fault.

The conversation we should be having

Here’s the primary problem that remains for Hill. This entire offseason saga has played out in such a complicated way, with so many facets to the story, that anyone can read into it what they want. In short, if you want to think of Tyreek Hill as a changed, decent man falsely accused, you can. Hoewver, if you want to see Tyreek Hill as a violent man who still deserves punishment even after the investigative measures have come and gone, you can—and you have actual merit to your side.

The history of punishments doled out by the NFL in recent history is laughable in its consistency—as in, there is none. Zeke Elliott was suspended six games for domestic violence without any official charges filed. Elliott used legal measures and appealed through the NFLPA and Roger Goodell didn’t even move the meter of the suspension. Six games remained six games. Jimmy Smith missed the first month of last season due to verbal and emotional abuse of a former girlfriend last fall.

These were the examples used to say that Hill was likely going to serve a suspension of some kind. Charges? They don’t matter. Verbal threats? You can’t make ’em (and we all heard it). The Chiefs were going to have to wait on their historic offense to come together in 2019, since Hill was likely to sit for at least a couple.

Then came the announcement. No punishment. No context.

When the NFL announced the lack of any punishment, they did so without any further explanation as to how they reached that conclusion—just like every other fine/suspension doled out. The prepared statement read, “…based on the evidence presently available, the NFL cannot conclude that Mr. Hill violated the Personal Conduct Policy.”  That’s it. No context.

What about the Chiefs’ own statement? The same thing. It reads, “Based on the information provided to us by the league, we have decided it is appropriate for Tyreek to return to the team at the start of training camp.” Once again, no context.

As for Hill’s personal statement, it’s simply a series of thanks to those who stuck by him and all parties involved and that he would strive to be a respectable person in all aspects of his life, in so many words.  Guess what? No context.

Why context matters? 

Here’s why all of this damaging to Tyreek Hill: if that above disclaimer still applies, Hill deserves for this entire cloud to lift completely. The conversation we should be having is about his electric talents, his generational abilities, his likelihood of rewriting some of the NFL’s record books when all is said and done. In the same manner that we discuss Patrick Mahomes‘ greatness, Travis Kelce‘s Hall of Fame trajectory, and Chris Jones‘ ceiling (is there one?), we should be celebrating Hill all the same.

Instead, Hill is going to be subjected to the shadow side of all of this for the rest of his career. For many NFL fans, even those who claim to be a part of Chiefs Kingdom, Hill got away with one here. Hill is violent, not vital. Hill is guilty, not great. And they will never let him forget it.

This will be part of the conversation around Hill during every single broadcast this season and beyond. Every electric play in primetime will also come with some caveat thrown out by an announcer who wants us to remember that Hill was questionable to play at all this season. Every time he’s voted to the Pro Bowl, someone will make mention of his violent past and the questions that remain.

This is all going to happen because no one provided any context for the verbal threats that we heard. There wasn’t a single person involved in all of this who sat down and said, “Look this is the context for some of the evidence that leaked out improperly.” It’s possible to hear the full recording and believe it exonerates Hill. It’s also possible to listen to it and think that Hill’s violent past is also a part of his present.

It’s still possible for someone to explain all of this way. Hill himself could explain the verbals threats made. Someone from the NFL could sit down and say, “These are the reasons no punishment was warranted here.” Until then, those who want to see him innocent will defend him and those who see him as guilty will troll him.

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It’s a better conversation than the one we were having earlier this offseason, but it’s a far cry from the one he deserves. Here’s hoping we can eventually find some context and move on to discussing a changed man who is a helluva football player.