OPINION: Forget Football; Safety of Tyreek Hill’s Fiancée And Child Are All That Matters

The first thing I felt when I heard the audio recording of Tyreek Hill and his fiancée, Crystal Espinal, that was released to the public yesterday was heartbroken, for a three-year old boy who has grown up in an environment of violence and terror.

The second thing I felt when I heard the audio was afraid, for a woman, a mother now pregnant again with twins, existing in that same violent, terrifying environment, and living in fear of the man who claims to love them.

The third thing I felt was angry that any child and any woman should have to live with such violence, and live in such fear.

But I can only imagine a fourth feeling that had to have pervaded the Kansas City Chiefs front office after that tape was played for Kansas City and the world to hear last night: foolish. Because the tape makes it plain that all of the worst-case scenarios are in play now, scenarios that the Chiefs could only cross their fingers and wish away when they drafted him three years ago and gave him his second chance.

How foolish must Clark Hunt feel today? How about Andy Reid? How about Brett Veach, and for that matter, though he’s not in Kansas City anymore, how foolish must John Dorsey feel today? How must it feel to be them today to know that the convicted domestic abuser they put their reputations at stake to draft, defend, and employ the last three seasons has been exposed to the world as the exact same person everyone knew he was when they brought him to Kansas City?

There is very little ambiguity about Tyreek Hill’s past history of domestic violence. He pled guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation after a December 2014 incident with Espinal, who was pregnant with his son at the time. Hill was sentenced to three years of probation, a year-long program for batterers, and anger-management. Once the probation was completed, the case was expunged. But removing that conviction from the record doesn’t remove that behavior from that person’s history. It doesn’t remove the police report from the public record, a report that graphically describes the injuries suffered and includes Espinal telling police that it wasn’t the first time Hill had been violent towards her.

Even armed with all of that knowledge, the Chiefs were willing to draft Hill in 2016. Arguably, they benefitted from Hill’s violent past by picking him much later in the draft than he might have gone otherwise. Hunt, Dorsey, and Reid publicly expressed their belief that Hill deserved a second chance. Reid’s words in particular carried weight, not just as a veteran head coach but as somebody who has devoted, and continues to devote, time and resources to Laurel House, a domestic violence agency in Pennsylvania.

They wanted to believe in Tyreek Hill. Once he got on the football field, it was plain to see why. And once he starting breaking games open with long touchdowns and serving as the most dynamic weapon on the league’s best offense, Chiefs and NFL fans wanted to believe, too.

Then, Thursday night, the release of that tape took that good faith and set it ablaze.

It’s a hard listen. I could only bear to listen to it once, myself. The tape depicts Hill and Espinal fighting over injuries suffered by their son. It includes Espinal accusing Hill of punching their son and using a belt to hit him. It includes Hill accusing Espinal of also using a belt to hit their child. It suggests that Espinal was not truthful in describing incidents to investigators and that that deception was in the service of protecting Hill.

Most alarmingly, and most saddening, it includes this exchange, which bears printing in full:

Espinal: “He is terrified of you. And you say that he respects you, but it’s not respect.”

Hill: “He respects me.”

Espinal: “He is terrified of you.”

Hill: “You need to be terrified of me, too, bitch. That’s why you can’t keep a f***ing man.”

It is that exchange that makes it clear that the least of anyone’s concerns should be whether Tyreek Hill plays football again. The only concern now is the safety of the child and of Espinal, and while the Johnson County DA assured the public that the child was safe in his press conference on Wednesday, the safety of the battered woman should be a significant priority as well.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that strangulation is a significant predictor of future lethal violence, and that if someone has been strangled by their partner in the past, their risk of being killed by that same person is ten times higher. And if there’s any football franchise, and any community, that should absolutely consider these worst-case scenarios to be in play, it’s the Chiefs and Kansas City, who five years ago lived through the nightmare of Jovon Belcher murdering his girlfriend before ending his own life in the parking lot at One Arrowhead Drive.

There will be time enough to wonder about what the Chiefs and what the NFL should do about Tyreek Hill. Their solutions seem obvious. It is hard to imagine them taking Hill’s entire history into account and then making any other decision but to banish him.

Above anything else, though, there is a child’s life and a woman’s life at stake. Any immediate action should be taken with those things in mind. And hopefully, the long-term response – from the Chiefs, the NFL, and fans everywhere – will be to take acts of domestic violence more seriously, and to think twice before considering those capable of committing such acts worthy of our second chances, and our cheers on Sundays.

Tyreek Hill had a lot of people fooled. He fooled Clark Hunt, he fooled Andy Reid, and he fooled so many who bought into his redemption narrative. But the people living with him, in an unsafe and violent home, knew who he was all along. And until Espinal and the child are safe, that should anger us. It should scare us. It should break our hearts.

From their website, “The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to callers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide services in more than 170 languages. Hotline advocates answer questions, provide safety planning and information as well as directly connect callers to domestic violence resources available in their local calling area. All calls to the hotline are confidential and anonymous.” The toll-free number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

From the Kansas Department for Children and Families, “If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected in Kansas, please contact the Kansas Protection Report Center (KPRC) at 1-800-922-5330.”