Vahe Gregorian

Tyreek Hill won’t face NFL suspension, but stigma remains around Chiefs and star WR

So the NFL on Friday announced its decision not to discipline the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, and the Chiefs promptly declared that they have lifted their de facto suspension of the star receiver.

“Based on the information provided to us by the league, we have decided it is appropriate for Tyreek to return to the team at the start of training camp,” they said in a statement. “The club fully supports the conditions for return laid out by the league and will continue to monitor any new developments in the case.

“We are glad to welcome Tyreek back to the team and look forward to the start of training camp next week.”

Presto, cue the celebrations of the #FreeTyreek crowd, who no doubt will greet him with emphatic chants of “Ty-reek, Ty-reek” when he is next introduced at Arrowhead Stadium or stands back to field a punt.

Shazam, ramp up the forecasts of the Chiefs as favorites to return to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years with the knowledge that their second-most dynamic player behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes won’t miss any time after being involved (along with former fiancée Crystal Espinal) in multiple investigations concerning allegations of abuse of their 3-year-old son.

But the reinstatement doesn’t magically erase what in April led Johnson County district attorney Steve Howe to passionately state a crime had occurred, but that prosecution couldn’t be pursued due to a lack of cooperation by Hill and Espinal … or Hill’s menacing words released via audio a day later that within hours compelled the Chiefs to effectively suspend him until now … or the fact that the case of Hill and Espinal and their child remains ongoing with the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

And that means a stigma will be hovering in the months ahead for the Chiefs and Hill, whose 2015 guilty plea to domestic assault and battery by strangulation of then-pregnant Espinal remains the baseline context for how he is perceived despite the fact he met the requirements of his three-year deferred sentence to render the conviction expunged.

That means different sorts of questions ahead for the Chiefs when they begin training camp next week in St. Joseph, and it means fans of opposing teams will be all over Hill on the road, and it means the franchise could be dealing with a different kind of scrutiny and narrative than it would want if it does get to the Super Bowl.

It means that if any damaging evidence emerges about Hill, or any other player, for that matter, the Chiefs will have to contend with the label of being enablers.

Finally, it means that in a certain sense the Chiefs are back to square one when it comes to Hill.

His arrival in Kansas City in 2016 posed a dilemma for any fans who care what their team represents or might prefer not to be confronted with how to reconcile cheering for an incredible player who came with distressing baggage.

At the time, you’ll recall, coach Andy Reid and then-Chiefs general manager John Dorsey asked for trust because of their track record and since Hill had apologized. They implied they just knew better than anyone else.

“I just want everybody to understand that we have done our due diligence with regards to full vetting each one of our draft-class members,” Dorsey said. “We would never put anybody in this community in harm’s way.”

The NFL concedes it doesn’t have a full picture of what took place and acknowledges prosecutors simply didn’t have the evidence to “determine who caused the child’s injuries.” But Hill is getting what could reasonably be considered not just a second chance but a third to play for a franchise that ought to be hyper-vigilant about who it employs less than seven years removed from Jovan Belcher murdering girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and then killing himself in the parking lot of their training complex.

As they move forward, let’s hope the Chiefs help themselves with more transparency about what they plan to do to provide further structure and support of Hill beyond what the NFL called “clinical evaluation and therapeutic intervention,” and what Trey Pettlon, an attorney for Hill, called “individual counseling.”

Because the NFL, which recently interviewed Hill for eight hours, didn’t exonerate him on Friday any more than Howe did in April.

Indeed, per its own words, the league acknowledged it that it didn’t have complete information beyond the fact that the child had been hurt.

“The information developed in the court proceeding is confidential and has not been shared with us, and the court has sealed all law enforcement records,” the NFL wrote. “Local law enforcement authorities have publicly advised that the available evidence does not permit them to determine who caused the child’s injuries.”

It’s unclear and a bit puzzling why the NFL didn’t think Hill’s infamous words (“You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb bitch”) to the woman he pleaded guilty to abusing in 2014 didn’t constitute a violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy — though it might be surmised that Espinal’s manipulation and goading of Hill in the secret recording factored into that.

But the Chiefs now will have to contend with both the benefits and consequences of the decision, which puts them both on the brink of an elusive Super Bowl and one incident away from standing for something they don’t want to … if they don’t already in the eyes of some.

It’s a bind for the Chiefs, who naturally are motivated to have the best team they can and would stand to be burned if they cut Hill loose for another team to pick up.

But it also creates one for the many fans who want simply to be able to unconditionally delight in what their team does on the field and might feel compromised by this situation.

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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.