Tyreek Hill: Fandom and Morality on Collision Course

It was November 27 at Sports Authority Field. The Kansas City Chiefs had just tallied a safety and were awaiting a punt. A 5’10” receiver from Division II University of Western Alabama was back to return the kick. Tyreek Hill caught the ball at the 15-yard line and exploded forward with his blazing 4.25 speed. Hill burst around to the sideline, easily outrunning defenders before high-fiving teammate De’Anthony Thomas as he ran into the end zone. It was the first of three touchdowns he would go on to score that night.

The electrifying performance would be the first of many for the rookie Pro-Bowler. Hill went on to score 12 touchdowns while recording 860 yards from scrimmage during the 2016 season. Kansas City Chiefs fans were happy to see what seemed to be the second coming of Dante Hall. Arrowhead Stadium would soon be filled with chants of “Ty-Reek! Ty-Reek! Ty-Reek!” That chanting however, was from the same fans who just months earlier were calling for general manager John Dorsey’s head for drafting the very same player.

Tyreek Hill: Fandom and Morality on a Collision Course

The Kansas City Chiefs selected Tyreek Hill late in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft. He stood out to John Dorsey for one reason: his speed. During Hill’s pro day, he ran a 4.25-second 40-yard dash which would have placed as the second fastest combine time in NFL history. The Chiefs couldn’t pass up on that potential, despite what baggage may come along with him. Baggage similar to that of a Ray Rice or Greg Hardy. Some may argue the worst baggage of the three.

On December 11, 2014, Crystal Espinal got into an argument with her then boyfriend Hill over some text messages. The pregnant Espinal believed Hill was hitting on “high schoolers” to which Hill responded by throwing her phone and laptop out of the apartment. When she re-entered the apartment Espinal claims Tyreek Hill assaulted her by punching her stomach and face as well as strangling her. Hill later plead guilty, deferring the felony assault charges punishable up to three years. Instead, he was placed on probation and required to seek anger management and attend a batterer’s program.

Hill was promptly cut from the Oklahoma State football and track teams which led him to transfer to Western Alabama. NFL teams didn’t want to touch Tyreek Hill come draft day. NFL personal offices believed the media firestorm that would likely follow outweighed his potential. While Hill exceeded expectations in 2016, Dorsey certainly did have a media firestorm to deal with after making the pick.

Kansas City and the Chiefs are all too familiar with domestic abuse. The city was only four years removed from the murder-suicide of Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Belcher shot and killed his wife before heading to the Chiefs practice facility and shooting himself in front of then-Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli. After such a horrific tragedy, it wasn’t surprising to see the backlash after the Hill pick. Local sports commentators discussed it all summer and expressed their outrage with the Chiefs organization. Kansas City sports radio host Bob Fescoe was one of the most vocal critics.

The local 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City put together a Go Fund Me page to support the Rose Brooks Center, a local battered women’s shelter in protest of the selection. They set a goal of $5,000 but after the week was over had raised over $15,000. Many fans also canceled their season tickets due to their outrage. The Chiefs ended up having to hold a special press conference with John Dorsey, Andy Reid, and Hill himself to answer the public’s questions.

Plenty of people will criticize the NFL by saying teams only care about winning and nothing else. But before we condemn the teams, shouldn’t we look at ourselves first? By week one however, Chief fans were cheering for Hill as he recorded his first touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. At the end of the 2017 season, I started seeing Tyreek Hill jerseys being worn all over Kansas City. Wal-Mart began selling t-shirts with him on the front. Billboards around Kansas City donned his image. It was only a mere seven months after the pick and the uproar when everyone had moved on. They chose to ignore Hill’s past, the very same thing that they criticized the Chiefs for doing during the offseason.

As a sports fan, it can be difficult to figure out where fandom ends and principles and morality begin. We like to view sports in a bubble, as a distraction from the outside world. Sometimes, however, as with Hill, the two are set on a collision course. It was so easy to condemn the Chiefs organization for drafting Hill before we saw what he could do on the field.

Once the Chiefs started winning, in large part due to Hill’s contributions, an internal struggle emerged. On the one hand there is this electric playmaker who’s so much fun to watch and could change the game at any second. At the same time in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake remembering what the man had done off of the field. It’s a struggle I think all Chiefs fans have had to face this season.

It’s a personal choice and struggle. Does he deserve a second chance? Domestic abuse is more of a behavior than it is a one-time accident or lapse of judgment. In fact, the victim stated that it wasn’t the first time Tyreek Hill had gotten physical during an argument. It was merely the first time it was reported. So I guess the more appropriate question would be “Can a person truly change?” I truly hope so. I hope Tyreek Hill makes the most of this opportunity, this second chance.

I will never be one to own a Tyreek Hill jersey, t-shirt, or poster on my wall. However, next time I see him scamper into the end zone for a Chiefs’ touchdown I will still be cheering. Not for Hill but for my beloved Kansas City Chiefs. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe, but it’s a balance I feel comfortable with at this juncture.