Frank Clark’s voice cracked and a few rogue tears streaked his cheeks Friday afternoon at the Chiefs’ practice facility.
Encircled by a small group of reporters after his formal introduction, the new Chiefs defensive end talked about the significance of his five-year, $105 million contract, how it would give him the opportunity to provide for his family affected by homelessness and tragedy.
For Clark, this was especially significant because there was a time, he said, where he wasn’t sure he could give them that security.
“You come from a place where it’s like, in life, you’re given so many shots or you’re given so many opportunities to do something great or to do something for so many people,” he said. “And you know to finally get to that point in my life where I can affect the generations in my family and the things that we’ve been through, it’s just awesome. ...
“I swear it’s the happiest thing in my life, knowing my family can rely on me. There was a point where I felt like they couldn’t. I felt like I wasn’t that role model I needed to be for my brothers and for my sister and for just everybody.”
That time, of course, came five years ago, when Clark was dismissed from the Michigan football team for a domestic violence arrest. The details in the police report of the fight between Clark and his then-girlfriend at a Sandusky, Ohio hotel are graphic.
Photos of the victim taken by police show lacerations and marks on her face and throat along with a shattered lamp. Clark had a laceration on his nose. The younger brothers of the victim reportedly told a hotel employee, “Frank is killing our sister.”
The younger brother then told police, according to the report, that he saw Clark hitting his sister. He told police that he saw his sister try to fight back, and that Clark grabbed her by the throat, picked her up and slammed her into the ground while also landing on top of her.
In the victim’s version of events, according to the report, she and Clark were on the bed and began to argue. She said she had been “short-tempered,” and that she got mad and threw the TV remote at him. She told police that Clark restrained her, and that’s when she bit his nose. She said he then pushed her head down into the bed. She said Clark punched her in the face and she fell back, breaking the lamp. She said she then threw an alarm clock at him as he was trying to gather his belongings to leave.
When asked about the marks on her neck, the victim told police Clark grabbed her shirt and that she fell down to the left side of the bed.
Clark was charged with first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence and dismissed from the team two days later. Clark’s charges were reduced to fourth-degree persistent disorderly conduct, and he completed a 25-week domestic violence course along with paying court costs and fines.
A few months later, the Seahawks selected him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Clark hasn’t had any legal troubles since that arrest, and in many ways, his trade to the Chiefs represents a new chapter in his life — one in which he can apply the lessons he said he learned in the aftermath of his arrest.
“I’ve had to learn to be a better teammate, better person, and then better man in general,” Clark said. “When you go through something like that and put yourself in that position, the first thing is you’ve got to own up to and understand what you did. I affected a lot of people doing that. It wasn’t just Frank Clark or Frank Clark’s family or anyone else. ... I think you’ve got to have a heart sometimes, a real heart. That’s just being real. I’m a real person.
“I don’t sugarcoat nothing, I don’t hide nothing. I ain’t got nothing to hide. I can’t barely hide it’s all out there. That’s just me.”
His new organization’s recent history with domestic violence means Clark will have to earn trust anew in Kansas City.
“The assurance I can give you guys is basically letting you know there’s no greater thing or action I can do but just to keep it real,” Clark said. “I feel like everything that I’ve done from that point is that. Everything I’ve done from then is open, opening up about my past and hoping people understand the type of person I am and where I come from.
“I feel like when you do something like that and go through a situation like that, you can come out two sides: You can come out positive or negative. It can make or break you. I definitely feel like this is one of the things that happened in my life, amongst all the things I’ve had, that definitely made me a better person, a better father, more understanding, more compassionate and to make my heart a little bigger.”
On Friday, flanking their new defensive star, Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach talked about Clark’s athleticism. They extolled the traits that made him a nightmare to play against and set out the reasons why they sunk so many resources into obtaining another crown jewel for their overhauled defense.
“A trade of this magnitude is not done unless it’s for an elite player,” Veach said. “And certainly Frank is an elite player. Over the last four years, he’s proven to be one of the very best pass rushers in the NFL. Great run defender and overall, just a disruptive player.”
On a day when so many teams around the league were introducing their first-round draft hauls with celebratory photo ops and videos, the Chiefs tried to echo the same tone with praise and analysis of Clark’s talent.
But even with Clark’s candor and improbable back-story of growing up homeless in South Central L.A., the shadow of the Chiefs’ pattern of employing players with violent backgrounds loomed large.
Before beginning the news conference inside the Stram Theatre at the Chiefs’ training facility, coach Andy Reid said that it was “Frank’s day.”
But Frank’s day was still overshadowed by a rollercoaster of events involving Hill, and the Chiefs’ own recent history with domestic violence.
Earlier Friday, the Johnson County District Attorney’s office reopened its criminal investigation into Hill. And the dismissal of Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt five months earlier for kicking and shoving a woman — and lying to the Chiefs about it — was omnipresent as well.