A Response To: “Tyreek Hill, isn’t it time to forgive but not forget?”

A Response To: “Tyreek Hill – isn’t it time to forgive but not forget?”

This is a response to Brad Symcox’s piece, “Tyreek Hill – isn’t it time to forgive but not forget?” which you can read here.

Oh God. I didn’t want to have to be writing this piece.

On Friday, my colleague Brad Symcox published a piece on this site looking at whether it’s time for us, as fans, to forgive Tyreek Hill and, essentially, stop giving him shit about what happened in his past. He thinks it is. I…let’s say I’m yet to be convinced.

What Tyreek Hill Did

First, it’s important to look at what happened on Thursday, December 11, 2014 in Stillwater, OK. Per the police report, reproduced at the Washington Post at the time, Hill got into an argument with his pregnant then girlfriend, which it’s fair to say, escalated. His girlfriend told police that he “threw her around like a ragdoll”. That he had “punched her in the stomach and choked her”. When the police officer asked his girlfriend if Hill had been physical with her before, she informed the officer that “it has happened a few times but it has not been this bad, just a lot of manhandling but Hill has never hit her”.

(Quotations in the above paragraph are from the police report, not necessarily Hill’s girlfriend’s actual words. Similarly, I’ve refrained from identifying her by name – although it is possible the find her name, I’ve taken that most major sites don’t give it to mean she has expressed a desire to not be easily identifiable. If you’ think I’m taking the wrong approach here, let me know.)

I wanted to recall the police report because it’s important in a situation like this that we’re dealing with what actually happened. We also know, via the Washington Post article above, that Hill initially said that “he was being arrested for being black and she was white”. Wherever we get to next, that’s something to bear in mind. When Brad talked about forgiving and not forgetting in his piece, it’s important to know what it is that we’re not forgetting.

Hill pleaded guilty on domestic abuse charges in August 2015. His plea agreement included an intervention course, and two years of supervision. He was drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, and has had a strong enough rookie season that he’s been named All-Pro as a punt returner by the AP. Which leads us to where we are today.

The NFL, Domestic Violence, and Fans

I’m stating the obvious to say that domestic abuse is an issue the NFL has needed to face up to in (and, of course, prior to) the last couple of years. 2014 brought us Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. 2016 brought us Johnny Manziel and Josh Brown. In the run-up to this year’s draft you’re going to be hearing a lot about Joe Mixon, a running back from Oklahoma involved in a typically grisly case. This is something that is not going away.

And as an issue, it’s a heck of a difficult balance to find the right position. On the one hand: no person should be blackballed forever, irrespective of conduct or future developments. Everyone should have the right to rehabilitate, show contrition and make amends. If you don’t give people the opportunity to rehabilitate, in a very general sense you rob them of motivation not to commit similar crimes again. It’s a bleak way of looking at things, sure, but here we are. On the other hand: if you’re too quick to nod and smile and say you’re comfortable that someone’s ready to be forgiven, it’s kind of worse. Not only do you give them the feeling that they’ve kind of got away with it, you also set an example to others that it’s not particularly heinous, and that consequences may go away in relatively short order. So that’s where we stand with this.

As fans, heck, as human beings we should never actively seek to diminish domestic violence, that’s obvious. But sometimes, we don’t realize that we subconsciously do, that we seek to bracket it with other crimes and offer some kind of “If A Then Why Not B” about this, where the two things aren’t really comparable. Brad compared in his article the rehabilitation of athletes following, among other things, DUI and gun crimes. Truth be told, I’m more comfortable even with Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the thigh with a concealed handgun (other than, you know, America), or Dak Prescott being arrested (though subsequently acquitted) of DUI while in college. Not exactly comparable to say, Greg Hardy hurling his fiancee onto a futon “covered in assault rifles”

So, given that context, it’s important to be level-headed when discussing Tyreek Hill. It’s important to be aware of your own biases too. I understand that Chiefs fans might be keener to see Hill forgiven sooner, and rival fans may be less willing. I’m aware that I, from a social ethics point of view, would find it very easy to say “garbage human, throw him in a dumpster”. Coming to a point of view where you don’t challenge your biases doesn’t really help anyone.

It’s also important, if we’re talking about forgiveness, to consider just who it is that gets to award forgiveness. In this case, it seems pretty simple to me: his victim gets to award it, and after that so do his victim’s family. If you wanted to extend it, I’d listen to arguments saying Hill’s own family might need to forgive him, though that one can definitely go either way. It is not within our compass as fans to award forgiveness. Tyreek Hill has done nothing personal to me, what right do I have to exonerate him? That’s disrespectful to his victims. What we’re looking at here is merely how we should feel about him, and how we should treat him, I guess.

Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs and Domestic Violence

So how do we know what to make of Hill? Well, to me the question is, to what degree is he contrite? As far as I’m concerned, contrition is seldom demonstrated through words alone. It is very easy to say that you’re sorry while doing next to nothing to make amends for what you’ve done. Hell, this is in evidence every day, from politicians to corporations to whoever it was that made the photocopier at work blow up.

I understand that Hill has said a lot of the right things. Frankly, that’s at least a start. You do get people, like Greg Hardy, who can’t even say the right things. I mentioned Greg Hardy earlier – when Dallas signed him in 2015, he wasn’t particularly contrite. Tyreek Hill does not seem to be Greg Hardy. Actually being able to somewhat convincingly express contrition, and understanding about what you’ve done wrong, yes that’s a start. It’s nowhere near enough that we can say “yes, he’s fine now”, but it’s a very obvious test that, if he failed, we could (and all would) feel that he’s a scumbag.

And beyond that, as Brad mentioned in his piece, the Chiefs top brass have since been very clear that they feel they’ve done due diligence on Hill. Andy Reid suggested that Hill’s willingness to undergo counseling and the domestic abuse intervention course were arguments in his favour. I understand that, and going and doing that, that’s a good thing. But attending those courses were conditions of his guilty plea. This isn’t to say that we disregard it, but be cautious of people doing things like this because they’re literally avoiding jail by doing it – motives, bias, etc. Treat it with more neutrality.

In a general sense, I understand the desire among fans to instinctively trust Andy Reid. When we have a very general positive impression of someone’s professional output, it’s natural for us to subconsciously associate that person with unalloyed good. Andy Reid is a damn good head coach. He seems, by all accounts, to not be an idiot. With successful sports figures, that’s not necessarily the most common combination. He’s turned round the Chiefs as a franchise, and that’s great for them. Back in Philadelphia, he and his wife were known for supporting charities, including one providing support for victims of domestic violence. We can give his words a touch more gravity than were he someone anonymously offering platitudes, as he has that background.

But Reid, we have to assume, doesn’t see Hill sufficiently outside the team to judge whether he is being a “good kid” or not. It can only ever be a personal feeling from someone not privy to a private life. To use a reductive example, if someone at your place of work were committing domestic violence at home, would you expect their boss to know about it?

The Chiefs did background checks and the GM sought the owner’s approval before drafting Hill. We don’t know what those checks were (or what the results were of them!) so it’s difficult to put any realistic stock in that. It’s been noted in a few places that the Chiefs have been eerily vague about what these checks were, and exactly what it is they found. That can be for any number of reasons, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.

With the owner – this is interesting. Clark Hunt’s generally one of the more respected owners in the NFL. He’s quite a low-key figure, so there’s a degree of inscrutability when trying to decide what his views are. But again, we can infer a few things just from understanding his instinctive bias. He wants a) to win, but b) not to leave his team’s name as mud. Hunt was the owner when the Chiefs went through the terrible Jovan Belcher tragedy, so he at least has experience of what the final outcome of domestic violence (and CTE!) can be. We just can’t know what Hunt prioritises most, and to what degree.

How Should We Feel About Tyreek Hill?

Through all this, you’re probably wondering how the hell you can have an opinion of anything on Tyreek Hill. That’s a healthy place to be! Vague skepticism – not assumption of guilt or innocence – it’s a good thing to have through life. No issues are cut and dried, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum compared to it.

The way to judge how to feel about Tyreek Hill is to judge his actions. Not his words, his actions. And I don’t mean his actions in the punt return game. A few sources have noted that Hill is paying child support to his ex-girlfriend and their child. That’s a positive thing, but again it’s not a whole heap above the bare minimum. Were he not doing so, you’d have more evidence to write him off, but again, doing what he can reasonably expect to be legally challenged for? It’s neutral; no more, no less. We have his words, and he seems repentant, but one can only ever seem through words, never be.

How does Tyreek Hill win our trust, then? Well there’s an opportunity, especially now he’s made this year’s Pro Bowl; been named All-Pro; and has an increased public profile. He’s in a position to go and do some things and really make a difference, to raise awareness of how terrible what he did is, and how others shouldn’t do the same. A few things he (or the Chiefs) could do:

  • Speeches in schools. Hill’s likely a total hero among a whole bunch of Missouri/Kansas schoolkids. He’s in a position where his words will have power, and where he can use them for good. Tyreek: go out, talk to teenagers, describe what you did and how terrible it was, tell them about how you’re haunted by what happened, the aftermath. Tell them how you’re lucky you got a second chance.
  • Donations to and actions for charities. A quick google of “Tyreek Hill charity” brings up articles on Hill helping out with a charity for visually impaired young people. That’s great, and good for him. But heck, he’s got the opportunity to have the biggest impact if he works to raise awareness for domestic violence. I can’t find any information on what Hill wore for the daft “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative the NFL had for charities – that would have been an opportunity. Though, at this point I should say that the relationship between reformed domestic abusers and domestic violence charities is a fraught one, as you don’t want to put domestic violence survivors in a situation where they could be triggered. That wouldn’t be the best way to help a vulnerable person recover.
  • The Chiefs could do the same. Look, the Chiefs will have known full well what they were getting into when drafting Hill. To be honest, I’m a touch disappointed they haven’t publically done more to raise awareness of and to help combat domestic violence. Especially given Reid’s charitable history. There’s an argument that they wanted to shelter Hill early on (not one I agree with) so he didn’t get involved in such things. If that was how they felt, they could have made up for it by doing more as an example.
  • Be transparent about all this. Hill and the Chiefs haven’t really given off the impression of having done If they have, then for heaven’s sake tell us. Plenty of current thinking suggests the best way to combat domestic violence is to raise awareness of it, and give victims of it more opportunity to escape such situations. If you are doing good things, show us. There’s basically nothing to lose, and all that you’re doing otherwise is leaving us the opportunity to draw our own conclusions, and frankly in that situation no-one would be blamed for doing so.

So far, I’m aware that all I’ve tried to say is to treat this issue with caution. You can probably tell that I’m very, very wary of nodding to someone convicted of domestic violence and saying “okay, you’ve done enough, it’s all fine now”. I’m also aware that picking on Tyreek Hill – someone who’s at least undertaken the first baby steps in making amends – when players like Frank Clark are still playing with less scrutiny isn’t the fairest, but frankly that’s the least of my concerns.

I just…look. This is something hard for us to deal with. It’s hard for us, as American Football fans, to watch someone making fantastic plays, lighting up the field with excitement, and then having the emotional conflict of knowing what terrible things they have done. It can tie you in knots, and that’s not pleasant! It’s easier if you can have evidence that they’ve turned things around, and are now a force for good. I get that this is where the temptation comes from.

It’s just not good for anyone if you do this too early. There are things Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs can do, not just to demonstrate that Hill has changed, but also to take measures to the wider world to become a force for good – to raise awareness of the issues. They could do their bit to help so that the next time someone goes to raise their hand to their girlfriend, they stop and remember not to. That they realize this dark side exists within them, and they seek help, and perhaps never do the terrible things that Hill did.

That Tyreek Hill has expressed remorse, undertaken court-mandated counseling and is paying child support, that’s a decent start! It’s baby steps, and not much more than a bare minimum, but I want to laud him for that! But we, as a society, must realize that those are merely baby steps, and that Hill has to continue to become a better person, to become an advocate for change. Otherwise we risk looking like we’re letting Hill “off the hook”, and thus giving succor to unrepentant domestic abusers. And if Hill is a changed man, as we all hope he is, I don’t think even he’d want that. I think he’d want to be held to account, want to prove himself, and want to continue to right his wrongs in perpetuity.

If you have any comments on this piece, or if there’s anything you think I’ve missed or got wrong, please come and find me on Twitter.

Charities in the UK for domestic abuse victims and survivors include Refuge, Women’s Aid, and the National Centre for Domestic Violence.

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