Lessons learned from the media coverage of Tyreek Hill

AVENTURA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 28: Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs speaks to the media during the Kansas City Chiefs media availability prior to Super Bowl LIV at the JW Marriott Turnberry on January 28, 2020 in Aventura, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
AVENTURA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 28: Tyreek Hill #10 of the Kansas City Chiefs speaks to the media during the Kansas City Chiefs media availability prior to Super Bowl LIV at the JW Marriott Turnberry on January 28, 2020 in Aventura, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Many were shocked when an edited audio clip of Tyreek Hill was aired. But there was more to the story than what we first heard.

It was one year ago this past Saturday where an edited audio clip ruined how people perceived Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. One year later, fans and the media have learned a valuable lesson.

The child abuse allegations against Hill started in March of 2019 after there were two police reports of suspected child abuse at Hill’s home. Five weeks later, Johnson County District Attorney Steve How said he believes a crime occurred, but did not have enough evidence to charge Hill, nor his then-fiancee, Crystal Espinal.

A day later, KCTV5 published audio of a recorded conversation between Hill and his then-fiancee, Crystal Espinal. KCTV5 reporter Angie Ricono reported on the story, sharing two minutes of the 11-minute audio recording. Ricono tweeted the station only released “the newsworthy portions” of the audio. Obviously, we did not know at the time, but key moments were omitted from the audio clip and other parts were spliced together.

KCTV5 aired the two-minute version of the audio to open up its 6 p.m. newscast. Shortly after Ricono’s report and airing only portions of the audio, KCTV5 had Matt O’Connor, an attorney, on the set to discuss the situation.

Because of the way KCTV5 portrayed this entire story, it led many to believe Hill was in the wrong. KCTV5’s reporting looked like it was clear and displayed evidence that Hill could face serious trouble. Elliot Metz, a producer for KCTV5, tweeted that the criminal case against Hill and his then-fiancee reopened following the release of the audio.

However, Terez Paylor of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that the case did not re-open.

Two weeks after the audio release, Hill’s attorney, N. Trey Pettlon, wrote a four-page letter to the NFL. In the letter, Pettlon denies any wrongdoing from Hill’s side while also sharing a text conversation in which Espinal admitted to hurting their son and lying about accusing Hill.

On July 10, 610 Sports Radio aired and published online the entire 11-minute recording. After listening to the 11-minute conversation, we learned that KCTV5 had excluded important context. Plus, the full audio showed that KCTV5 grabbed portions of the audio from different parts of the 11-minute recording and put it together, making it seem like the entire conversation happened during a two-minute span and the rest was not important.

When the NFL announced it did not suspend Hill, it was reported that Espinal did not cooperate with the NFL when the NFL attempted to reach out to her for an interview.

From May through July, we learned that Espinal admitted to lying, did not refute Hill’s claim about the 2014 incident, and did not respond to the NFL. On top of that, it was reported at the end of September that Hill was in court against Espinal, fighting for custody of his son.

KCTV5 faced plenty of criticism from Chiefs fans for unfairly sharing the audio. KCTV5 news director Casey Clark did an in-station interview with sports anchor Dani Welniak. However, Clark defended the way the story was reported and did not offer an apology for omitting newsworthy portions after Ricono said there was not any newsworthy material from the rest of the recording.

Hill’s NFL career was saved, and rightfully so. However, the damage had been done.

Fans outside of Kansas City still view and refer to Hill as an abuser. When I come across non-Chiefs fans on Twitter about this topic, I attempt to educate them on the subject by showing them the reports where Espinal admitted to lying and did not cooperate with the NFL when it reached out to her. Those fans deny those reports without facts, or they resort to personal attacks to avoid the conversation.

Even in my interactions with sports journalists on Twitter, national writers refused to believe the attorney’s letter and the report about Espinal lying.

Look, I get it. In this day and age, where journalism and reporting has changed because of social media, stories are viewed differently.

Hill received a lot of criticism for his “you should be terrified of me” comment, followed by an expletive. But the media focused on just that specific comment, and did not want to focus on other parts of the story as updates occurred—updates which contained important information.

The initial moment, or the “big” part of the story, always makes front-page news and is talked about more than any follow-up information. In this case, the recording was what got everyone talking about the story. However, as new details emerged, the national media, and even some local media, spent little time discussing the updates.

Because of that, many were surprised Hill did not get suspended.

As someone who studied journalism in college and believes that the media should be trusted, it upset me seeing how KCTV5 unethically and dishonestly reported this story. When a media outlet publishes a recording, claims they will only air a couple minutes, and leave out the other nine minutes because it is not newsworthy, we should be able to trust them. We should be able to trust journalists with the way they report on any story. KCTV5 could have easily and fairly aired small portions of the audio, then upload the entire conversation on its website.

Unfortunately, KCTV5’s reporting now comes off as one-sided, or a story with a self-determined narrative.

Due to that, Hill is, wrongly, viewed as a child abuser. Clark did not apologize for how the station handled the story. Ricono made herself available to local radio stations for interviews on the story after the station aired the edited version of the audio. After the full audio was published, Ricono did not publicly speak on the subject nor did she make herself available to the same

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media outlets.

Let this be a lesson for everyone. Whether you are a journalist, a news director, a blogger or a fan, it is important that we let the facts play out. For journalists, when the facts are available, report them fairly and do the same thing when there are updates for follow-up stories.

When and if another situation similar happens, let’s remember this story and let all of the facts play out. Hopefully, the media covering that story will cover it differently.