For the three-plus years they’ve been in Kansas City, Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have consistently stated their desire to find high-character players who love football. They have said this time and time again, over and over.
But on Saturday, at about 2:14 p.m., the Chiefs used a fifth-round draft pick to select a dynamic return man with a history that runs counter to all that.
The Chiefs used the 165th overall pick to select West Alabama receiver Tyreek Hill, who was kicked off Oklahoma State’s team on Dec. 12, 2014, after he was arrested and accused of punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend.
Hill eventually pleaded guilty Aug. 21, 2015, to domestic abuse by strangulation. He was sentenced to three years’ probation — which ends Aug. 15, 2018 — and also was fined $500 plus fees and ordered to pay $263.14 in restitution.
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The Chiefs were aware of the case, but that didn’t deter them from selecting Hill, who transferred to West Alabama and appeared in 11 games in 2015 before blazing a 4.25-second 40-yard dash at his pro day in March.
The decision thrust the Chiefs into the conversation about the sincerity of the NFL’s efforts to prevent and discourage domestic violence. Both Greg Hardy and Ray Rice, two players who have been thrust into the spotlight because of domestic violence issues in their personal lives, are currently unsigned.
Fan reaction to the move — which comes four years after the Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and fatally shot himself in the parking lot of the team training facility — was fast and swift, as fans flooded the franchise’s Twitter account with negative replies following the announcement of the pick.
And in an unusual move, Dorsey met with reporters Saturday evening — he normally waits until Monday after the draft for his final press conference — to discuss Hill’s selection, along with Reid, and attempted to ease concerns.
“I just want everybody to understand that we have done our due diligence with regards to full vetting each one of our draft-class members,” said Dorsey, who added that he had “long discussions” with Reid and Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt before making the selection. “We would never put anybody in this community in harm’s way.”
Reid agreed, reiterating that the organization has “done its homework” on Hill and asking fans to essentially give them the benefit of the doubt, since they say they can’t publicly discuss whatever details they were able to dig up about Hill’s case.
“There has to be a certain trust here, but there’s just things that we can’t go into and go through,” Reid said. “We want people to understand, like Dorse said, we’re not going to do anything to put this community or this organization in a bind.
“We uncovered every possible stone that we possibly could, and we feel very comfortable with that part of it.”
During their extensive research on Hill’s background — the Chiefs spoke to ex-teammates and coaches, but Reid wouldn’t say whether they spoke to the woman who was assaulted — the Chiefs also became enamored with Hill’s talent.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hill, who spent the first two seasons of his career at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, was a budding star at Oklahoma State, as he led the Cowboys with 1,811 all-purpose yards as a junior in 2014.
“He’s got world-class speed,” said area scout Ryne Nutt, who served as the lead scout on Hill. “He ran a 4.25. I was at his pro day and it was one of the better pro days I was at all year. The kid’s explosive, he’s fast-twitched; he can obviously run and he’s very good with the ball in his hands.”
Nutt said Chiefs special-teams coach Dave Toub compared Hill’s return skills to Atlanta return specialist Devin Hester.
“He’s probably the best returner I’ve done since I’ve been in the NFL — just elite explosiveness,” said Nutt, a seven-year NFL veteran scout.
Hill’s 996 combined return yards in 2014 were the second-most in the nation, and on the field, he figures to give the Chiefs a much-needed alternative as a slot receiver and punt-return option to De’Anthony Thomas, who missed the last month of the 2015 season for undisclosed reasons but has rejoined the team. Hill could also help out on kick returns, where starter Knile Davis has been shopped all offseason.
Yet, for all Hill’s electrifying talent, his past dominated discussion on draft day, and with good reason.
According to a Stillwater Police Department incident report, Hill got into a verbal altercation that turned physical with his girlfriend, who was two months pregnant with his child at the time.
Hill allegedly punched her in the face and stomach and also choked her twice, busting open her lip and leaving her with a bruised left eye, according to the police report.
The police officer’s notes also indicated that the right side of her neck was red where Hill choked her and she complained that her head and stomach hurt from the blows.
Hill’s girlfriend also told police that he’d been physical with her before, “but it had not been this bad, just a lot of manhandling but Hill has never hit her,” according to the report.
As part of his guilty plea, Hill signed a statement that read: “I was in a fight with my girlfriend that turned physical between us and I wrongfully put (her) in a headlock, putting external pressure on her neck that compressed her airway causing bodily injury.”
Reid and Dorsey stressed the Chiefs understand the sensitivity of the matter, especially in regards to domestic violence on the NFL level, with both of them even attempting to speak on a personal level, with Dorsey mentioning that he has a son and a daughter, and Reid mentioning that his wife, Tammy, has contributed to multiple domestic-violence prevention ventures over the last 14 years.
“The unique part of this — and I think the part that we have to understand is — very seldom does the other side try to right the wrong,” Reid said, his voice starting to crack. “We see this kid trying to do that — he’s trying to make the effort to right the wrong — and I think that can be a great example to so many people that have fallen into this situation.”
Both men firmly stressed that the Chiefs wouldn’t have made the decision to draft Hill if they didn’t believe he was on the right track.
“Before you’re given a second chance, you better be doing the right things,” Reid said. “So he’s been in counseling, he’ll continue to be in counseling, we’ve got a great support system here for that with quality people.
“We feel good that he’s trying to right a wrong, a big wrong. But he’s trying to do better, and be a better person for it. And that part, we feel very confident in.”
The Chiefs said that over the last year, Hill has had to complete a domestic-abuse evaluation, an anger-management course and a year-long batterer’s program.
And during a teleconference Saturday, Hill expressed regret for his role in the incident, and noted that the teams that interviewed him during the predraft process — the Chiefs showed the most interest, he added — asked him plenty about the incident.
“I got questions everywhere I went, so it wasn’t anything new to me,” Hill said. “I would have just told them straight up, ‘I’m trying to move on from that. I’m trying to be a better young man. I’m trying to show who I truly am.’ Stuff like that.
“The only thing I did say was, ‘I’m sorry. I messed up. I embarrassed the program at OSU. I embarrassed the coaches. I embarrassed a lot of people back at home.’ That’s it. That’s how I explained it. I really don’t want to go into detail.”
Asked what he’s done to improve himself, Hill said, “I just try to choose my friends wisely. I’m not trying to point any fingers at anybody, but I’ve just got to be better at choosing my friends and who I hang around, stuff like that.”
Hill also expressed appreciation to the Chiefs for taking a chance on him.
“It’s life-changing, for real, to just be around guys like that I’ve watched on TV all of my life,” Hill said. “I’m just really happy for the chance, and I just want to thank the Chiefs’ organization, the coaches and everybody that just believes in me.”
This is not the first time the Chiefs have brought in somebody with domestic violence issues in the recent past. Last May, they signed Mississippi State cornerback Justin Cox and Iowa State defensive lineman David Irving as undrafted free agents. Both were charged with domestic violence in 2014, but both charges were dropped before they signed with the Chiefs.
Cox was eventually released in July 2015 when he was arrested for domestic violence for the second time in less than a year. Irving, meanwhile, stayed out of trouble, but was signed off the Chiefs’ practice squad by the Cowboys in September 2015.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said during training camp last summer that the Chiefs don’t have a hard-and-fast policy for bringing in players who have had trouble with the law because “every situation is different.”
“It’s up to John (Dorsey) and his staff to do the research when the player has an incident and make a judgement call on as to whether it’s going to work out,” Hunt said at the time. “That particular situation (with Cox), it didn’t, but John is very aware that we don’t want guys who are going to be a problem in the community with the Kansas City Chiefs, and as a result, he and his team have to do a lot of work.”
And when the Chiefs first brought Cox in, Reid said they did their background work on him, just like they’re saying now.
“John and I talk about it, and he knows that we want to be a leader in the NFL, not a team that has a lot of guys that are getting in trouble,” Hunt said. “It’s up to him to make those decisions within the parameters I allow him to do that.”
With Hunt’s desire’s clear — and the fact Hunt was consulted on the Hill decision — there appears to be plenty, including the team’s credibility, to an extent, staked on Hill not getting into any more trouble.
So why even take the risk? Well Reid insists there’s a human element involved. He noted that he went through a similar situation with Michael Vick, who signed with the Eagles in 2009 after he became the object of scorn for dogfighting.
“He’s been under the gun, just like this, and all eyes were on him,” Reid said of Vick. “He tried to come out of prison and right the wrong; I saw that and was sensitive to it and gave him a second chance. It was the greatest thing to ever happen to anti-dogfighting, and he’s been on a mission to help stop that.
“Every situation is different, and you’ve got to study it, see the person and see the heart that belongs to that person.”
Both Reid and Dorsey insist their mission of bringing good people, not just good players, into the organization has not been changed by the addition of Hill.
“I believe words mean something, I really do,” Dorsey said. “And I’ve said early on, I was going to bring guys with character in here, guys that were going to be good people in this community. I said that when I first got here, and I still mean that.”
Reid added: “We think there will be a positive end to this. And I just ask that we let the young man get on with his work and life and help encourage him so we can get a positive out of this. That would be great for humanity itself, and then whatever he does on the football field is icing on the cake.
“So it can be a win-win, bringing him to this great city of Kansas City.”