In every publicly discernible way and without a whiff of a reason to think otherwise beyond that, Tyreek Hill has been a model citizen since the Chiefs drafted him in 2016 amid enormous controversy — and impending scrutiny — after he pleaded guilty to domestic assault months before.
Whether by doing all that’s been asked of him and more, engaging with fans, launching a foundation to help underprivileged children back home in southern Georgia or conducting a fundraiser for it with a celebrity basketball game at Rockhurst University, Hill’s redemptive trajectory has been gaining momentum little by little, day by day.
To say nothing of Hill along the way becoming one of the most exhilarating players in the NFL — a stature he flashed again with a thrilling 69-yard touchdown reception from Patrick Mahomes in a 28-14 preseason victory against the Falcons on Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
A highlight of the night for the Chiefs made for a sweet homecoming for Hill as he played in front of some 25 family members from his childhood homes of Pearson and Douglas more than three hours away.
But his most meaningful recent moment, one of the most significant of his young life, took place with considerably less fanfare on Wednesday in a courtroom in Stillwater, Okla.
There and then, Hill’s road to atonement took a tangible turn: His three-year deferred sentence came to an end as a Payne County judge dismissed the case against him.
In the process, the conviction was ordered expunged from his court record and his original guilty plea — in the most technical of senses — was changed back to a plea of not guilty, per the Payne County district attorney’s office.
If it might sound like semantics to some, it’s about far more than that.
It’s about a young man evidently doing everything he can to set things right in the wake of one terrible evening in December 2014 that resulted in the guilty plea to domestic assault.
It’s about a young man who has expressed contrition, followed through on every court-ordered assignment and who has been paying child support for a son he loves with the then-pregnant girlfriend he was accused of punching and choking that night.
While Hill spoke with reporters only briefly on Friday, allowing no opportunity to ask a question one-to-one about what this means to him, he has been intent on reaching this milestone.
In the process, he has said the right things at virtually every turn and apparently done them, too.
“I do those things in order for me to be a better person,” Hill told local reporters in late 2016. “I’m really dedicated and I’m going to stick to it, so I can be a better man and better citizen for this community and a better father to my son.”
While it’s no guarantee of what’s to come and won’t expunge his arrest record, Payne County assistant DA for domestic violence cases Debra Vincent said in a phone interview Friday that their office always considers it a success story when someone embraces the opportunity to legally vindicate themselves this way.
As a young man (20 at the time of the 2014 incident) with no prior convictions, she said, Hill is one of hundreds to receive an opportunity that seems like a no-brainer but that “many don’t take advantage of.”
The fact that Hill did by fulfilling a series of court-ordered mandates — including completing four sessions of anger management, a 52-week batterers’ intervention program, a domestic violence evaluation and paying all of his fines, fees, court costs and restitution payments — suggests he is on the right trail.
“I don’t have any reason to disagree with that,” Vincent said, later adding, “Who’s to say that this wasn’t life-changing in how he looked at that part of his life?”
As for how Hill’s victim might look at this, she was unable to be reached for comment. But Vincent to some degree spoke to her perspective by noting she was part of the initial agreement to make this offer to Hill and had not conveyed any complaints since.
As for how everyone else might look at this now?
While certainly there are fans who remain conscious of this part of his past and some who see him primarily through that lens, Hill also has become a fan favorite and already has appealed to some as a symbol of the meaning of second chances.
Of course, his prowess on the field is entwined with that, but in a sense that’s beside the very point that’s been here from the start.
As it became clear his rookie year that he would be exceptional, I remember writing that the Chiefs never should have drafted Hill … but that since they had we were left to ponder this:
Can the sentiments of thinking always and first about the victim, yet hoping for the reform of the perpetrator, rationally co-exist, or does that inherently trivialize the victim?
Is it really for the greater good that the batterer be condemned forever and denied something that might provide the greatest hope to be a productive citizen? And perhaps is financially beneficial to the victim and their child?
Are compassion for his victim and wholehearted hope that Hill can have a productive life ahead and never engage in abuse again — as a football player or not — incompatible stances or wishes?
Those questions still hold, of course. But unless and until we know otherwise, the answers have looked different with each passing day – none more so than last Wednesday.