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Searching for answers in the Tyreek Hill case

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The NFL should make a ruling on the Chiefs wide receiver in the coming weeks.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill has spent a full day talking with NFL investigators about the allegations of child abuse and/or neglect in his household, what’s next?

Right now, we don’t know the answer.


“Sooner rather than later”

Late on Thursday night, Yahoo! Sports NFL writer Terez Paylor said that the situation could be resolved “sooner rather than later.”

Following the NFL’s eight-hour interview with Hill on Wednesday in Kansas City, sources tell Yahoo Sports the Chiefs are hopeful a ruling on the matter will come before the start of training camp, and if that comes to fruition, expect him to be in attendance for the start of camp on July 26 in St. Joseph, Missouri.

NFL.com said something similar — but a little stronger — in a story last updated on Thursday morning.

Hill is expected to report to the Chiefs for training camp when it begins on July 26 barring a significant development in the case. The receiver has been banned by Kansas City from team activities since April 26.

So we have Paylor saying “the Chiefs are hopeful” Hill will be available for training camp, and NFL.com saying “Hill is expected” to report to training camp.

It should be noted, however, that in the previous paragraph of the NFL.com story, insider Ian Rapoport’s earlier reporting that “there is no timetable” for the league to finish its investigation was quoted — even though on Wednesday evening, Rapoport himself had said on NFL Total Access that barring a significant development, Hill is expected to be at training camp.

So will Hill be reporting to training camp? Based on the information now available, we believe he will.


The Chiefs’ unofficial suspension of Hill

It’s important to remember the NFL itself has not yet taken any action against Hill. On April 25 — the first night of the NFL draft — Chiefs general manager Brett Veach announced Hill would not be participating in team activities following KCTVs’s release of audio recordings reportedly made by Hill’s fiancee Crystal Espinal in which Hill made what appeared to be a threat against her.

It’s worth noting Veach’s precise words that night:

“As soon as the draft concluded after the last pick, I had the chance to call [Tyreek Hill’s agent] Drew Rosenhaus and we decided that at this time and for the foreseeable future, Tyreek Hill will not partake in any team activities. We are going to gather more information. We’re going to evaluate this information and we will make the right decision regarding Tyreek Hill.”

So the Chiefs — in consultation with Hill’s agent — made a a team decision to bar Hill from its activities. From that moment on, it has been up to the Chiefs — not the NFL — to determine Hill’s status with the team.

The Chiefs — along with everyone else — apparently assumed that the recordings Espinal reportedly made would shed new light on the matter, and reopen the criminal investigation that Johnson County District attorney Steve Howe had announced just the day before would not result in any criminal charges. But it’s now unclear whether the criminal investigation was ever actually reopened.

It its initial story, KCTV5 reported that the recordings it had obtained had been provided to Howe, and he was reviewing them. The next morning — April 26 — KCTV5 updated their original story, adding a paragraph saying they had confirmed the criminal investigation had been reopened.

KCTV5’s report is apparently the basis for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s statement later that day during the press conference introducing new Chiefs defensive end Frank Clarkthe one where Reid said the case had been reopened. Reid’s statement generated dozens of national stories trumpeting the reopening of the criminal investigation — which was then presumed to be ongoing during the next six weeks.

During that time, it appears that the Chiefs — and the NFL — believed that the criminal investigation then thought to be underway might bear fruit that could inform their decision on what to do about Hill; if criminal charges ended up being filed, that would have made any decision regarding potential discipline for Hill much easier to make.

But on May 2, Paylor reported “there’s a belief among some close to the ordeal that the child abuse case against Hill has not been actually ‘reopened’” after the release of the audio recordings. On June 7 — more than a month after Paylor’s report — the Kansas City Star reported that Howe had confirmed the criminal inquiry was “not an active investigation.” The Star also quoted Hill’s attorney Trey Pettlon saying that it was his understanding the criminal inquiry “has been closed for quite some time now.”


No criminal investigation

The absence of a criminal investigation made things more difficult for the Chiefs and the league, since only the filing of criminal charges would allow any information developed by law enforcement to eventually become public knowledge.

On the other hand, any information found during the still-ongoing Kansas Department of Children and Familes (DCF) investigation will not be released to the public — something we confirmed recently with DCF spokesperson Mike Deines.

Typically, DCF investigations are not public knowledge, but Deines told us that even if they become known to the public, Kansas law is very specific about what the DCF may (or may not) do:

“K.S.A. 38-2212 (d)(3)(B) provides that ‘Information from confidential reports or records of a child alleged or adjudicated to be a child in need of care may be may be disclosed to the public when: …(B) the investigation of the abuse of neglect of the child or the filing of a petition alleged a child to be in need of care has become public knowledge, provided, however, that the agency shall limit disclosure to confirmation of procedural details relating to the handling of the case by professionals.’”

In practical terms, Deines explained that this means DCF is limited to releasing only the dates when a DCF inquiry begins and ends — nothing else.

So three weeks ago — when it finally became clear that no one in Hill’s household was subject to an active criminal investigation — the league was left with only one recourse: to investigate the matter independently. That ultimately led to Hill’s eight-hour interview with NFL special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel and her deputy Jennifer Gaffney on Wednesday.

According to Paylor, the meeting went well for Hill.

During the interview, Hill attempted to provide clarity and context to the defense he mounted in the four-page letter he sent the league in May, in which he disputed the child abuse case and claimed to have text messages and other sources of evidence that would help explain the situation further. Sources tell Yahoo Sports that Hill has been looking forward to presenting and meeting with investigators for some time, and felt the meeting went well.

If we believe Paylor’s account that the meeting went well for Hill, then the Chiefs could easily decide to lift Hill’s banishment from team activities before Chiefs players report to camp in late July, thereby leaving it to the league to determine whether a suspension of Hill in the regular season is warranted.


A counterpoint

But on Thursday, Mike Florio of NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk — who has seldom missed an opportunity to speak on Hill’s situation — explained what the league might do after conducting its own investigation.

Once the NFL has the information that it needs, the question becomes whether and to what extent the league will determine that a violation occurred. The nuanced view would entail considering whether and to what extent Hill tells a credible story in a believable way, meshing his verbal explanation with the other evidence in a way that makes the NFL determine that he’s telling the truth and that he’s genuinely contrite, and that he should have little or no punishment. The more practical view would be that the league will do whatever it already wants to do.

On multiple occasions in recent years, NFL investigations have become an exercise in working backward to justify a preordained ending point. If in this case the NFL already has decided that Hill should be suspended for a specific number of games, the investigation will be molded, contorted, and maybe even distorted in a way that leads to that outcome.

This is the nightmare scenario for Hill and the Chiefs. In the end, it might not matter whether Hill makes a compelling case for his innocence to the NFL’s investigators.

Even if Hill has now made a strong case to investigators, the league may believe it will have no choice but to impose some kind of suspension on Hill because millions of NFL fans across the country believe Hill is guilty of wrongdoing.


The bottom line

It’s still possible that Hill could receive a light suspension or even none at all. But be warned: we really don’t know exactly what news is coming.