Sam Mellinger

Full Tyreek Hill audio provides some additional context to an awful situation

The latest significant step forward in the Tyreek Hill mess is here, and it may be the last before the NFL decides on a possible punishment so it’s worth taking some inventory.

Two months ago, KCTV-5 released selected clips of an 11-minute recording. On Tuesday, the full audio played on 610 Sports. As with virtually every twist in the story so far, nobody wins.

The recording was made in secret by Crystal Espinal, Hill’s fiancee. She is the mother of his three children — the twins were born recently — and the woman Hill pleaded guilty to punching and choking in 2014.

No part of this story has ever or will ever leave you feeling good. When discussing anything from this tape, at least a few things are worth remembering.

  • Hill didn’t know it was being recorded. She was presumably trying to capture an audio version of a smoking gun.
  • The Chiefs and NFL have heard this audio and more, as well as extensive evidence that includes thousands of text messages.
  • The clip provides context that KCTV5 inexplicably left out, but it’s still just 11 minutes of their lives together.

OK, now let’s talk more specifically about what 610 played three times Tuesday.

The children are the most important part of this, and also the ones harmed the most. At one point in the recording, Hill said he wished he never had kids with Espinal. He tells Espinal she can have the child, and the twins who hadn’t yet been born. Now that clip will live forever online. Hill was audibly frustrated, but at some point those kids will hear those words.

There is enough ugliness on record already. This is only one part. But, still. Hearing those words will be an awful and confusing moment for the kids.

Hill’s status with the Chiefs is the most newsworthy part of this, and there is little on the tape that we hadn’t heard already that would seem to warrant a long suspension.

Hill is adamant that he didn’t hit Espinal in 2014 but doesn’t have a good answer when she asks, “Then where did all those bruises come from?”

The recording is uncomfortable, complicated, and this is important to remember — only part of the story.

At various points, Hill tells Espinal “you ruined my life and you lied on me in 2014,” and that his life “is supposed to be a whole lot easier right now.” He admits being “hard on” their son, but “I would never hurt my son in life.”

For her part, Espinal repeatedly tells Hill their son is scared of him. When she says Hill punches him in the chest, Hill doesn’t directly dispute the claim.

“OK, but what about you?” he responds.

It’s at that point they seem to be arguing over who treats their child worse, and the prevailing emotion while listening is sadness. Hill and Espinal have three kids together and a relationship that by all appearances has long been toxic.

No matter what the NFL decides, and no matter where Hill’s football career goes, the most important thing is for the children to be supported and healthy. The Chiefs and league can help, and should.

Hill’s stardom and 2015 guilty plea have helped shape how this story has been viewed, discussed and (yes) reported from the beginning. Child abuse investigations are always complicated, always messy, and for good reasons always kept as private as possible.

The full truth would always be hard to find, but in this context was likely always impossible.

Soon, perhaps as early as this week, the NFL will announce a possible punishment for Hill. The Johnson County DA has said no child abuse charges will be brought, so Hill’s worst-case scenario is assumed to be off the table. The team has been optimistic that a suspension would be relatively short.

Nobody gets out of this clean. Not Hill, who has no good response when Espinal accuses him of punching their son or when she asks where her bruises came from. Not Espinal, who comes across as manipulative and may have incriminated herself on the tape.

And not any of us — media, fans, whoever — who assumed the worst before the provable facts backed it up.

This entire story has been a series of bizarre and often stomach-turning twists. Some within the Chiefs have gone from believing Hill did nothing, to believing he would soon be cut, to now different shades of doubt. Some believe he’s been set up, others believe he’s made punishable but easily forgivable mistakes.

The truth is slippery, which we saw again with the release of clip of two people’s lives spinning beyond their control.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.