Rookie Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill has emerged as one of the most explosive players of the 2016 season. He is the league-leader in punt return yardage, at 497, fourth in all-purpose yards (1,680) and has 11 total touchdowns. This would be one of the NFL's best stories of the year -- but Hill has a dark past that looms over his breakout performance.
In December 2014, Hill was arrested after his then 20-year old pregnant girlfriend called the police in Stillwater, Okla., alleging assault. Hill was ultimately charged with domestic assault and battery by strangulation, and pled guilty to both. The arrest led to Hill being released from the Oklahoma State football team while also being sentenced to three years of probation, anger management classes and other forms of rehabilitation.
Hill tried to revive his football career in one season at West Alabama, a task he underwent while also fulfilling court orders. His 2015 season was mostly forgettable, with 237 rushing yards and a touchdown, 27 receptions for 444 yards, three touchdowns and four return scores. Given his past, Hill's chances to land with a team in the 2016 NFL Draft seemed slim; according to one league source who spoke with Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, "most teams had Hill off their draft boards."
That league-wide stance makes sense. We're not all that far removed from Greg Hardy's domestic violence arrest, or Ray Rice's (and it's accompanying video, the response to which was supposed to radically change the NFL's domestic violence policy) or the mishandling of Josh Brown, the New York Giants kicker who lost his job only after extensive reports were released about the nature of severity of the abuse he inflicted on his now ex-wife.
The Chiefs themselves aren't far removed from the scourge of partner violence affecting their organization; linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, in 2012, then drove to the Chiefs facility where he died by suicide.
But, despite all that, Kansas City chose to use a fourth-round draft pick on Hill, even when it seemed that no other team would have been willing to select him.
This isn't to say that Hill has not earned a second chance. He's handled his personal and professional business without incident since entering the NFL, and he is still taking classes and undergoing therapy while also financially supporting his ex-girlfriend and their son. Hill said to the New York Times in November that, "I make sure I do those things in order to be a better person. I'm real dedicated. I'm going to stick to it so I can be a better man, a better citizen for the community and a better father for my son."
The Chiefs also did their homework before committing any resources to Hill last spring. According to general manager John Dorsey, the team had met with his former coaches at Oklahoma State and West Alabama, interviewed family members and friends and even spoke with the prosecutor on the domestic violence case before believing Hill was a man dedicated to turning his life around.
But it must be remembered that Hill was arrested and pled guilty to a crime that has become a major hurdle for the NFL to properly work to prevent and punish. While a talented young player, Hill's present cannot be divorced from his past. Head coach Andy Reid referring to the domestic violence charges as "the incident" only serves to further diminish the severity of his actions as well as helps reinforce the spotty, sometimes hypocritical make-it-up-as-you-go nature of the league's response to these crimes.
This response is often reflected in exactly who gets second chances, and why. Rice never did, even when he said in July that he would donate 100 percent of his 2016 NFL paychecks to domestic violence awareness and prevention charities. Meanwhile, Hardy was released from the Carolina Panthers, but signed a one-year, $11.3 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Never mind that Hardy was suspended, initially for 10 games (reduced to four after independent arbitration). He's currently out of the league and was indicted in November on felony cocaine possession.
Hardy's second chance was given because he was at the time considered a talented pass-rusher and the Cowboys were willing to tarnish their organizational reputation for improvement on defense. When that didn't materialize, Dallas had no interest in bringing Hardy back. Rice was already over the age of 30 and his rushing production in decline when the video of him punching his then-fiancee emerged, prompting the Baltimore Ravens to cut him. That decline in production, in concert with the video evidence, made his release far less difficult than it would have been if done in Rice's prime.
Video evidence is also likely the No. 1 reason why Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops had been talking about his regrets surrounding Joe Mixon. The running back was kept on the Sooners roster for two years after Mixon was charged with punching a woman in the face; in December, video surveillance footage emerged of the assault and Stoops came under fire, with the coach saying that Mixon would have been dismissed from the team if the incident had happened today. But the reason why Mixon wasn't cut in the first place was because of Mixon's talent, as Shannon Sharpe tweeted:
(1) B. Stoops is full of bulljive. After the blowback of the released Mixon tape .Stoops now says he should've dismissed Mixon.- shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) December 21, 2016
(2) I'm certain he saw that tape in its entirety and made the determination. Mixon's talent 2 hard 2 ignore. He's a coward- shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) December 21, 2016
(3) Mixon should pull out of the bowl gm and enter the draft. Don't play for Coward who won't support you publicly, but did privately.- shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) December 21, 2016
There is, indeed, a murky formula to second chances. Talent, though, seems to be weighted the most, until the evidence is of the "pictures or it didn't happen" variety -- a standard far too often used in issues of domestic violence, one that undermines the experience of the victims and the prosecution of the alleged perpetrator.
Hill hasn't been in any type of personal or legal trouble in the past two years. He appears to be cultivating a very promising NFL career, one whose beginnings have helped carry the Chiefs to the playoffs. That said, Hill's past cannot and should not be washed away because of his success on the gridiron. He should not be solely defined by his arrest, but his ability to score touchdowns does not erase what happened.
Second chances are fine, as long as we don't fail to forget why Hill is getting one in the first place.