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Chiefs giving Tyreek Hill opportunity to atone for heinous crime

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Tyreek Hill earned All-Big 12 honors before getting dismissed from OK State. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's been more than a week since the 2016 NFL Draft ended, and the tremors from an unheralded fifth-round pick can still be felt around the Kansas City Chiefs. His name is Tyreek Hill and he's been a constant source of outrage around these parts.

For those who haven't followed this story, here's a quick summary: Oklahoma State kicked Hill off the team in December 2014 after police arrested and accused him of choking and hitting his girlfriend, who was eight weeks pregnant at the time. Hill eventually pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation and received a sentence that included three years' probation. After landing at West Alabama and thriving as a speedy kick returner -- he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds at his pro day -- the Chiefs picked him on the final day of the draft. That would be the same Chiefs franchise that suffered through the tragedy that involved linebacker Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, before killing himself at the team's training facility in December 2012.

The sentiment among many fans and local media is that the Chiefs were alarmingly tone-deaf with this move. Head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey exposed themselves to criticism by gambling on Hill. They didn't have to take a chance on a mid-round prospect who would bring this much scrutiny to the organization. They easily could've played it safe instead of spending this past week explaining a selection that many teams probably would've avoided.

But they didn't do this blindly. As Reid said on the first day of his team's rookie minicamp, "I completely understand. I'm sensitive to the situation. I get it. I've talked to women on the other side of this, on the receiving side. So I'm very sensitive to that. A lot of guys don't try to right the wrong. I give the kid credit for doing that and he's really working hard at that. I completely understand the other side."

It's critical to see the message in the Chiefs' decision. The NFL's attitude toward domestic violence has changed drastically over the last two years, as the league has learned to take such matters more seriously. The cases involving Ray Rice and Greg Hardy resulted in a harsher policy for addressing those who lay their hands on women. Adrian Peterson's child-abuse case also influenced the changes in the NFL's code of conduct. While Peterson has returned to the field, Rice hasn't played since video of him striking his wife surfaced in 2014. And repeat offenders are now subject to banishment from the league.

So we all understand what now happens to those players who commit such wrongs in the league. But how do we determine when troubled men deserve an opportunity to redeem themselves?

The decision Reid and Dorsey made created an interesting discussion about the next logical step in the conversation about domestic violence in the NFL. It's forcing us to understand how vital second chances can be when you're trying to address a wrong and alter a culture.

Reid has been down this road, by the way. As coach of the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2009, he gave Michael Vick a chance to return to the NFL after the star quarterback had served 21 months in federal prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring. Reid also has watched two of his sons, Garrett and Britt, serve prison sentences, and Garrett died of a heroin overdose in August 2012. (Britt now works under his dad as the Chiefs' defensive line coach.) Reid isn't the only coach willing to take a chance on a troubled player, but he clearly believes that even people who do bad things need somebody to believe in them.

This is why it's impossible to think what some have suggested: That Reid and Dorsey weren't prepared for the backlash that followed Hill's selection. First off, they did it with the consent of owner Clark Hunt. Secondly, the Chiefs should've been able to anticipate the questions that would come with adding a player involved in such an ugly incident to a franchise that consistently has stressed the importance of high character. Hunt also is well aware of how the Belcher-Perkins murder-suicide ruptured his franchise and the entire community four years ago, just before the arrivals of Reid and Dorsey.

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What people have to realize, however, is that character isn't just about avoiding trouble. It's also about how somebody matures after committing a serious wrong.

Nobody can guarantee Hill won't run afoul of the law again, but this much is clear: He is following the steps laid out for his probation -- he had to undergo a domestic-abuse evaluation, an anger-management course and a year-long batterer's program as part of his sentence -- and his guilty plea will be dismissed if he avoids trouble until August 2018. (The victim also signed off on that plea agreement.)

On his first day of rookie minicamp, Hill said he completely understood the blowback the Chiefs have received over his presence.

"Those guys, those fans, they have every right to be mad at me because I did something wrong and I just let my emotions get the best of me and I shouldn't have done it," said Hill, who was named to the All-Big 12 team as an all-purpose player in 2014 after gaining 1,811 all-purpose yards as a junior at Oklahoma State. "They have every right to be mad. But guess what? I'm going to come back and be a better man, be a better citizen and everything will just take care of itself and let God do the rest."

The Chiefs have been on full-scale damage control since making the pick. They held an impromptu press conference the evening after selecting Hill, and Reid spent most of his first day at rookie minicamp addressing the subject. The Chiefs maintain that they thoroughly vetted Hill, a process that included talking with the prosecutor who handled the case. Reid also mentioned that his own wife, Tammy, has done extensive work with domestic violence groups and even noted that Hill's willingness to accept counseling was a sign of positive growth.

"The counseling was a big part of it," Reid said, when asked what his wife thought of the draft pick. "Is he willing to go and do that? That step is huge. To actually admit that you were wrong. A lot of people won't do that, they just won't go there. Then on top of that, to try to fix yourself and make it right. To her, those were valuable, valuable steps."

The important thing to remember here is that Reid isn't selling anybody on the idea that Hill could be the missing link in his team's hopes of winning a championship. He's pushing the notion that Hill is a talented young man who already has done enough to earn a shot at moving his life in a better direction. Keep in mind, we're moving into an era where it's harder for people to see the value in peeling back layers and making sense of issues that appall us. It's much easier to read a splashy headline, consume a few details and pass a swift judgment based on preconceived notions. This is especially true when it comes to an issue like domestic violence, which, along with racism, is one of the hardest topics for people in this society to discuss. It's rife with emotional landmines.

We can all agree that domestic abuse is a brutal, heinous crime. What it shouldn't be is a means to lump everybody who is charged or convicted of it under the same umbrella.

There is no way of knowing whether Hill will strike another woman in his lifetime, but when asked if the risk involved in the selection was worth it, Reid said: "I'm not much on the crystal ball and looking into the future. We do enough homework where we feel that he's headed in the right direction and deserves a second chance. I'm not here -- listen, I understand the situation. I've been involved with it for a number of years with my wife and our charity. I've seen different situations and I'm not here to judge. I am not the Almighty -- I'm not saying that at all, by any means. But from what we gathered, and we tried to be as thorough as we could with it, we felt that he deserved an opportunity."

Reid knows this first-hand because he saw how Vick grew after being incarcerated. There was substantial backlash that came with the decision to bring him to Philly, but the end result ultimately justified the move. ("It was the greatest thing to ever happen to anti-dogfighting, and he's been on a mission to help stop that," he said of Vick.) Reid had to see past what Vick did to understand the quarterback was taking steps to change his life. It's quite notable that the head coach is doing the same thing now for a young man with far less upside.

This past week was the first indication of how difficult this will be for both the player and the organization. Hill is saying all the right things, and Reid is backing the notion that the rookie is focused on atonement.

But let's also be clear about one final thing: Hill didn't land a job with the Chiefs solely because he can run fast and return kicks. He's here because the Chiefs decided to move the ball forward on an issue that won't always be as black and white as we would like.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.

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