NFL and Chiefs got it wrong on Tyreek Hill. Now, the child must be the priority

For now, at least, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill will escape punishment following a four-month child abuse investigation.

The NFL’s decision Friday to let Hill off the hook — and the Chiefs’ agreement with the ruling — sends a chilling message to other players, fans and everyone who understands the gravity and the horror of domestic violence and abuse.

The message? The way you treat women and children is unimportant if you can run fast and catch a football.

“Based on the evidence presently available, the NFL cannot conclude that Mr. Hill violated the personal conduct policy,” the league said Friday after investigating allegations that Hill and his former fiancee hurt their child.

“Accordingly, he may attend Kansas City’s training camp and participate in all club activities.”

Some Chiefs fans immediately applauded the ruling, pointing out that Hill was never charged with or convicted of a crime. That should be enough, they argue, for Hill to put on a uniform and play.

But professional football players must meet a higher standard than simply not being convicted of a crime. “It is a privilege to be part of the National Football League,” the league’s personal conduct policy says.

“We must endeavor at all times to be people of high character,” it continues. “We must show respect for others inside and outside our workplace; and we must strive to conduct ourselves in ways that favorably reflect on ourselves, our teams, the communities we represent, and the NFL.”

No serious person can argue Tyreek Hill reached those standards. And the bar for Hill is higher than for other players: In 2015, he pleaded guilty to domestic abuse. (The fact that he has more recently tried to cast doubt on the facts in that case after entering a guilty plea and undergoing therapy only makes it worse.)

Can anyone say now that they are proud of Hill’s behavior, or that he has reflected well on our community? That he did nothing wrong?

“You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb bitch,” he told his then-fiancee, Crystal Espinal, in a conversation that she recorded. On that tape, Hill does not directly dispute a claim that he had punched his son in the chest.

Hill’s son was removed from his home after a child abuse probe was launched. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said the child had been hurt, but he didn’t have enough evidence to file charges.

In a disappointing but completely unsurprising move, the Chiefs wasted no time in welcoming Hill back to the club. The team’s record with domestic abuse and violence is horrible, among the worst in professional sports. Refusing to further punish Hill makes it worse.

In a statement Friday, Hill referred to the “false allegations” in March, then promised to do better. “I will not let you down,” he wrote to the league.

Hill must focus on not letting his child down. Letting the NFL down should be the very least of the wide receiver’s concerns. This incident should convince him of that fact.

Sadly, escaping punishment may teach Hill the opposite lesson.

The Chiefs and the NFL should lead the effort to make sure Hill and Espinal get the counseling and therapy they clearly need. For everyone’s sake, Hill can’t afford to be anything less than a model citizen and father in the future.

Hill will also share the blame if other players test the limits of personal conduct policies, based on his clean bill of health.

After a summer of secret audio tapes, news conferences, investigations and statements, we may never know with certainty what happened at Hill’s home in March. Sadly, Kansas law protects much of the investigation from public view, a further hindrance to a full understanding of the case.

The NFL says it could not examine the full record.

We do know this: In March, someone in that home hurt a child. That’s beyond tragic. Saving the 4-year-old boy from further injury is the only outcome that matters now, and the only way to find redemption in the sordid, unacceptable Tyreek Hill affair.