ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — As Tyreek Hill walked down the long hill that leads from the Kansas City Chiefs’ locker room to the practice fields, he was greeted by cheers and chants of his name that seemed to energize him as he stretched out his arms, pounded his chest, pumped his fist and started jogging toward his teammates.
This was a sunny Saturday afternoon, just minutes before the Chiefs’ first full-squad training camp, and after a tumultuous five months that included moments that seemed to put his burgeoning NFL career in doubt, no Chief was happier to be back with his teammates than the 25-year-old, two-time All-Pro.
“The love feels good, to come out here and hear the chants, it’s crazy man,” Hill said Sunday, which marked the first time he has answered questions from reporters in months. “So I’m back. Cheetah’s back, man.”
Hill addresses secretly recorded conversation
Hill, the Chiefs’ star receiver, has been ensnared in a child-abuse investigation since March, one that didn’t produce any charges or any discipline from the NFL. That hasn’t kept people from sharing opinions on his situation. On this day, Hill had a chance to share opinions of his own for about eight minutes.
“I can’t wait for my new journey, man — I’m excited,” Hill said. “I'm working every day to be a better father, a better person, a better citizen, a better teammate and a better son to my parents. I'm evolving every day.”
Hill didn’t address specific questions regarding the Kansas Department of Children and Families case — “I cannot get into that … I wish I could, but I can’t,” Hill said, when asked what he has to do to regain custody of his son — but he elaborated on some topics, including what he made of allegations he punched his 3-year-old son in the chest, what he’d say to those who remain skeptical about his character and what he learned from the entire ordeal.
“I learned to just appreciate those around me man, because I feel like I take that for granted sometimes,” Hill said. “Being a professional athlete, I tend to not stay humble sometimes. I still love my kids and my family, but sometimes I feel like I take all of those things for granted.”
Hill said the lingering fallout related to a secretly recorded conversation between Hill and his ex-fiancee, Crystal Espinal, offered a reminder of how fleeting things can be. Parts of the audio, which were aired by a local news TV station the night of the NFL draft (just one day after the district attorney declined to press abuse charges), ignited a firestorm and led to the Chiefs suspending him from team activities.
“To be honest, I didn’t know that existed until it came out,” Hill explained.
One flashpoint of the audio was the part in which he told Espinal “you ought to be terrified of me too, dumb bitch — that’s why you can’t keep a [expletive] man.”
In 2015, Hill pleaded guilty to domestic abuse by strangulation of Espinal in exchange for a deferred three-year sentence. He completed his probation requirements and the case records were expunged.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said Saturday that hearing the entire tape, which aired on a Kansas City radio station in early July, “put it in context,” though Hunt also added that he’s sure Hill regrets the “inappropriate language,” which Hill confirmed Sunday.
“I feel like all of us can learn something from that situation,” Hill said. “I’m just here to man up to what I did. Like on the audio, my bad language, I’m gonna man up to that. Like, I don’t want anybody talking to my little sister, my daughter that I have now, my mom like that. It’s very disrespectful.”
Hill says his mom was critical of him for that.
“She like bumped me in the head like, ‘Come on ‘Reek, grow up out of that,’” Hill said. “Never again. Like I said, I’m growing as a human being, as a person. Never again.”
Details of meeting with NFL investigators
Hill also attempted to provide context during the presser to Espinal’s allegations that he punched their son in the chest.
“I really can’t get into that, but punching my son in the chest, that would probably refer to me teaching my son how to box, because we do have boxing gloves at our house, and our son … loves Iron Man, Aquaman, and he’s like ‘Daddy come on, come on, come on’ all the time,” Hill said. “So that’s what it is, man. Sometimes things get thrown out of context when feelings get involved and emotions. But I’m not gonna get into all that right now.”
Hill had a chance to get into all of it during an 8 1/2-hour meeting with NFL investigators in late June. A couple of weeks later, the NFL opted against fining, suspending or otherwise disciplining Hill for anything regarding the matter.
“Roger Goodell and his team, they did their thing,” said Hill, who added he wasn’t sure what the NFL would do until it ruled. “They dug in and they got all the facts. I’m appreciative for those guys as well.”
Following Hill’s reinstatement, Hunt said he had a “good” visit with Hill earlier this week, one that resulted in a “very frank” conversation about Hill’s responsibility as he returns to the team.
“I really can’t get into all that,” Hill said, when asked for details, “but all I’m gonna say is I’ve just got to work on my life skills — that’s it.”
Hill says he felt supported by his teammates and coaches through the ordeal, which is why he calls them family.
“Because that’s what they are,” Hill said. “They trusted me, brought me in this organization, and that’s what I’m so appreciative of. They gave me a chance at life so I can change my family’s life, my kids’ lives and everyone around me. I came from nothing, so I’m very appreciative of it.”
Hill concluded his news conference by again thanking the support of the fans, many of whom roundly cheered him as he made play after play during the Chiefs’ first two practices of training camp.
“Cheetah’s back, man — thank you for the support Chiefs Kingdom, and I love you,” Hill said. “Like I said, I’m growing as a person each and every day.
“And for the reporters, man, hey — my story’s crazy, it’s gonna be somebody’s testimony one day,” Hill said. “I’m telling y’all. Thank you.”
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