Vahe Gregorian

If the Chiefs care about honor and decency, Tyreek Hill can’t be part of this team

The instantly infamous audio clip of Tyreek Hill and Crystal Espinal that KCTV-5 aired on Thursday night stood for many things at once.

It was a lens onto a chilling side of Hill, whose response to being told their 3-year-old son is terrified of him was, “You need to be terrified of me, too, bitch.” It was an appalling glimpse at what several sources have told The Star is a toxic relationship.

And her disturbing reference to covering for him with authorities (“I rode for you,” as she put it) was a window into the sorts of obstacles to which Johnson County district attorney Steve Howe seemed to be alluding on Thursday. That’s when he said a crime had been committed when it came their son, who The Star reported had suffered a broken arm among other injuries, but suggested he couldn’t bring charges because the couple had conspired to stonewall a month-long investigation.

Perhaps most of all, the excerpt from a recording Espinal reportedly made while the couple was walking in the Dubai International Airport also was a moment of tangible clarity and, in fact, a favor to the Chiefs.

Unless they are morally bankrupt, it’s easy now.

If they care about what they stand for, if they care about the community, if they care about victims of abuse and their families who already had to be conflicted watching this previously convicted man cavort on the field, Hill can’t be part of this team.

It’s that simple: If they care about honor and decency, Hill can’t be part of this team.

Late Thursday night, after the first round of the NFL Draft had concluded, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach spoke briefly with reporters and said Hill has been suspended from all team activities. He did not take any questions.

Even after Howe’s extraordinary news conference on Wednesday, there was scant room for equivocation or rationalization about Hill unless the Chiefs were bent on denial or creating smokescreens around the real issue.

Which they could well have been, given that Hill is their second-most dynamic offensive player behind Patrick Mahomes and arguably fundamental to their ambitions of playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in half a century.

Sure, the Chiefs are in business to compete, not be a pillar of virtue. Those worlds can collide, and it can be complicated. Or as reader Dan Curry eloquently put it in an email on Thursday: “We want them to be a beacon of honor, but they’re also a business where that beacon shines on winning from the thousands of fans who follow them.”

But the spotlight now is on what looms as a trend for this franchise, which cut running back Kareem Hunt last fall only after video surfaced of him knocking over and shoving a woman months before and emphasized it was for lying.

Earlier this week, the Chiefs traded for Seattle defensive end Frank Clark, who was involved in a domestic violence incident in 2014 that led to him being dismissed from the Michigan football team.

Sure, it’s hard to have a one-size-fits-all policy. And we can’t be so cynical that we don’t believe in second chances, can we?

Just the same, this is a franchise that should feel more duty-bound than most to be sensitive to domestic violence in the wake of the 2012 murder of Kasandra Perkins by linebacker Jovan Belcher, who then killed himself in the parking lot outside the Chiefs’ training facility.

When the Chiefs drafted Hill in 2016, a few months after he pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation of the then-pregnant Espinal, I touched base with Perkins’ mother, Becky Gonzalez.

“I heard the story: It’s disheartening to see another case of money over morals,” Becky Gonzalez, the grandmother to orphaned baby Zoey, said via text message. “They (the NFL) do whatever damage control is necessary at the time to appease (the) public but never take a stance.

“I hope they don’t end up regretting their decision.”

For a while, their decision looked good. While Hill was emerging as a human blur and one of the most exciting players anyone has ever seen, he also by all accounts was conducting himself with exemplary behavior.

When his three-year deferred sentence ended last August and Hill had completed all of his court-mandated requirements, Hill’s conviction in Payne County, Okla., was expunged. And it was heartening to hear what county assistant DA for domestic violence Debra Vincent said.

“Who’s to say that this wasn’t life-changing in how he looked at that part of his life?” she said in a phone interview at the time.

But Vincent also reminded me of the truth that was always lurking: She warned that the work he’d done to date was no guarantee of future behavior. Because his progress could only be measured over a lifetime, not a few years — just as concerned local domestic abuse experts warned when the Chiefs drafted Hill and trumpeted their vetting and urged us all to trust them.

And that’s the other favor this sad situation has done for the Chiefs. It stands as a statement that they need to change their attitude about this, not to mention their system.

When they said “trust us” and implied they knew better than the experts and said they had thoroughly vetted him and that they have their own in-house ways of working with these situations, they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Now they need to own up to that and revisit how they do this part of the business, perhaps with a dose of transparency involved, lest they continue to go down this path and have reason to regret it again.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.