As the Chiefs return this week to offseason training, hovering over all the other subplots is the matter of Tyreek Hill, the team’s most dynamic and pivotal offensive player beyond quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Hill remains effectively indefinitely suspended by the Chiefs amid unresolved investigations of abuse and neglect of his 3-year-old son, inflamed by words secretly taped by his fiancée, Crystal Espinal.
That tape includes his menacing statement that Espinal should be terrified of him — a term that is particularly jarring considering Hill in 2015 pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation of the-then pregnant Espinal in 2014. Adding to the alarm, their son has been removed from their custody and Espinal is due with twins in early June.
These sorts of episodes and conflicts don’t tend to arise out of a vacuum, though. And it’s reasonable to suggest that no matter how loving an environment Hill may have been raised in, distress and dysfunction were fundamental parts of it, too.
Because while Hill stands in this hazy limbo, a clearer image is emerging of the hazards of his past that perhaps in some way help account for where he’s stranded now.
It was understood that the son of teenage parents at birth was yielded to his mother’s parents to provide presumed stability.
But it was no idyllic narrative in the home.
From 1989 to 2016, Herman Hill, the grandfather with whom Hill was raised after his birth in 1994, was a suspect in 15 criminal cases, mostly theft and burglary charges.
Several charges against Hill were dismissed, including a 1991 allegation of simple battery against a woman — court documents allege that Herman Hill “did intentionally cause physical harm … by striking (the alleged victim) with his fist” — when the alleged victim was a no-show.
He was convicted in at least four cases.
Records from the Georgia Department of Corrections indicate Herman Hill served time for two counts of burglary and one count of theft by taking. The last of those incarcerations had a maximum release date of Dec. 13, 2001, though he may have been released earlier via parole.
Virginia Hill, the grandmother with whom Hill grew up, also faced three criminal cases, for trespassing, disorderly conduct and giving false information to a police officer. Each case appears to have been plea-bargained or dismissed.
Whatever this all means, it certainly implies struggles and a problematic example for Hill’s upbringing in a home where he also evidently was the recipient of corporal punishment.
Hill’s attorney, Trey Pettlon, recently wrote in a letter to the NFL that Hill and Espinal had grown up in households where “corporal punishment was an accepted discipline, and that they both admit that they have used ‘spanking’ as a form of discipline with their child.”
Whatever that all means in trying to understand Tyreek Hill, it’s also important to note that Hill by all indications adores his grandparents. He has written on social media in the past about his devotion to Virginia Hill — for whom he bought a Maserati in January — and he paid this tribute to Herman Hill last Father’s Day on his under-the-radar Facebook page:
Accompanied by a picture of them standing back-to-back in tuxedos, Tyreek Hill wrote that his grandfather (and former football coach) took care of him and showed him how to be a man and a father. He added that he “helped me through adversity and many other things … I love you and keep motivating the youth in the south.”
There is a fine line between reasons and excuses, of course. None of these points either absolve or indict Hill, who remains accountable for his behavior, whatever his influences might have been.
It also must be remembered that beyond the blunt truth of Hill’s “terrified” term to Espinal, much still is unsettled in the ongoing issue.
But that history may help account for why the road to understanding his life has been a labyrinth shrouded in smoke and mirrors.
Not just because of the unreconciled current events, which became public just as Hill was on the verge of a lucrative contract extension, but because of … everything.
Through the Chiefs after Hill was drafted in 2016, Herman and Virginia Hill declined interview requests by The Star.
Numerous attempts to call them have been unsuccessful, and knocks on their door went unanswered on a recent visit to Hill’s hometown of Pearson, Georgia, a 3.4 square-mile burg about 220 miles south of Atlanta where nearly 40% of the population lives under the poverty line. Attempts to reach a number of other family members and friends have also been unsuccessful.
Nowhere was that resistance more stark than at the P&W Family Restaurant, as I wrote in my recent column from Pearson.
On the day of its grand opening, a poster of the Chiefs’ star receiver adorned a window and two people were clad in shirts bearing his name and causes. Yet when asked if the restaurant had some affiliation with Hill, the waitress reeled and went to the apparent manager or owner across the room. From her seat at the counter, the woman in charge angrily yelled, “We don’t know him,” and muttered a few other things. No one returned to my table.
Turns out there was another layer to that story.
Days later, Virginia Hill, the grandmother who raised Hill, posted on Facebook a photo of what she called a mouth-watering salad she had made … for P&W Restaurant. She went on to urge people to come by and to say how proud they are of the extended family enterprise.
It all speaks to the cordon currently around the life of Hill, a dynamic that seems more clear now ... even as so much remains murky.