The press release masquerading as a letter to the NFL’s in-house discipline czar was intended to sway public opinion regarding Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. But while the effort to turn the tables of child-abuse allegations from Hill to Crystal Espinal may have given red meat to red-clad fans looking for a reason to defend Hill, the letter was, all things considered, ill-advised.
The goal was simple and obvious. Hill’s lawyer wanted to push back against Hill’s swift conviction in the court of public opinion that came after the release last week of disturbing audio recorded by Espinal, the mother of Hill’s three-year-old child. A press release would have made the effort too transparent; couching the quickly-leaked-to-ESPN statement in the form of formal correspondence to the NFL made it seem more organic and natural.
Regardless of whether the it was issued as a press release or as a letter to the league, here’s the problem for Hill: At some point, he’ll be grilled by NFL executives about the situation, and it will be critical that he be credible. To be credible, he’ll need to be accurate. And the letter will make it more difficult for Hill to tell his story in a way that doesn’t create the kind of inconsistencies, accidental or otherwise, that could prompt the league to conclude that he’s not being truthful.
Case in point: If someone from the league decides to aggressively question Hill on the claim in the letter that the breaking of his son’s arm was deemed to be an accident, even though the prosecutor has said publicly that a crime was committed against Hill’s son, Hill could quickly get so twisted in knots that he’ll be too rattled to thereafter remember the broader facts in a way that will result in the overall story being told in a believable way. Throw in the fact that the league already will be skeptical of Hill given his admitted misconduct against Espinal from 2014 (he assaulted her while she was pregnant), and Hill’s challenge of passing the NFL’s unofficial lie detector test will become even more daunting.
Also, by accusing Espinal of child abuse, the letter could make Espinal determined not only to defend herself but also to implicate Hill. Which could prompt her to choose to fully and completely cooperate with the league office. If she’s credible and Hill isn’t, that’s very bad news for Hill. (And since the past misconduct against Espinal becomes an aggravating factor in any potential punishment, Espinal easily will become more sympathetic in the eyes of league officials who hear the story of Hill choking and beating her.)
Ultimately, nothing in the letter changes the fact that Hill’s suddenly menacing message — “you need to be terrified of me too, bitch” — shows that Mr. Hyde still lurks under whatever Dr. Jekyll façade Hill’s lawyer tries to concoct. Given Hill’s history, hearing those chilling words made me think that Hill continues to be the same guy he was when he did what he did to Espinal more than four years ago, making him (in my opinion) unfit for the privilege that is a career in the NFL.
Remember, every second (or third) chance given to an NFL player takes away the first chance of some other player who did nothing wrong. Although some will believe Hill’s talent justifies affording him consideration that never would be granted to a lesser player, his admitted misdeeds from the past necessarily gave him a very small margin for error. His admitted words to Espinal put him on the wrong side of that line.
And nothing his lawyer could ever say will change that.