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Tyreek Hill’s unsettling past puts Super Bowl 2020 fans in awkward spot

It would have been hard to imagine Tyreek Hill playing in the Super Bowl last spring.

The Chiefs wide receiver had been told to stay away from the team facility. He looked in line for at least a suspension and at worst jail time, after being accused of breaking the arm of his 3-year-old son.

But here we are, getting ready for Super Bowl 2020 next week, and Hill will be one of the stars of the big show.

So, how do we reconcile appreciating Hill the athlete while not feeling so good about Hill the person? It is one of the challenges of being a fan. Where do you draw the line? Is it OK to marvel at Hill’s remarkable speed and athleticism? Do you want him on your fantasy football team? Would you allow your child to wear his jersey?

Chiefs fans gave Hill a standing ovation on the first day of training camp after the NFL and district attorney had not found enough evidence to suspend him or pursue charges in the case of his son’s injury.

The district attorney was careful to point out, though, that a crime had been committed against the 3-year-old, but he did not have enough evidence to prosecute Hill or his fiancée, the boy’s mother.

“This office has reviewed all the evidence and has declined to file charges against Tyreek Hill and Crystal Espinal,” Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said. “We are deeply troubled by the situation. We believe a crime has occurred, however, the evidence in this case doesn’t establish who committed a crime.”

Tyreek Hill Chiefs Super Bowl 2020
Tyreek HillAP

Though there was not enough evidence for a real court, Hill still felt guilty in the court of public opinion after an audio tape surfaced of a conversation between him and Espinal.

Espinal told Hill, “He is terrified of you,” referring to their son.

“You need to be terrified of me, too b—-,” Hill responded.

Espinal said Hill punched the boy in the chest, something Hill later tried to explain as teaching him how to box.

This was not Hill’s first run in with the law either. When he was at Oklahoma State in 2014, Hill was arrested and pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation for an assault on Espinal, then his pregnant girlfriend. The police report states Hill repeatedly punched her in the stomach and choked her. Oklahoma State kicked him off the football team, and he finished his career at West Alabama.

That incident caused NFL teams to think long and hard about Hill. The Chiefs ended up drafting him in the fifth round, far lower than he would have gone without those character concerns.

Now, he is part of the Chiefs’ explosive offense. Kansas City signed him to a three-year, $54 million contract before this season. He caught seven touchdown passes this season and had two in the AFC Championship game win over the Titans.

For the most part, the accusations of last spring have receded into the background, but Hill will be in the spotlight this week in Miami and will surely be asked about the incident with his son. Ray Lewis had to answer plenty of uncomfortable questions at Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001, a year after he was involved in a murder case — charges that were later dismissed in exchange for testimony against his associates and a guilty plea on obstruction of justice.

Closer to home, Giants fans know what it is like to reconcile loving Lawrence Taylor the linebacker, but not feeling so good about LT, the guy. All teams have players who have had legal problems. The NFL is not a league of choirboys.

Hill’s crime in college and his alleged crime last spring are about the most reprehensible crimes you can think of — abusing a woman and a child.

Fans are going to have to decide for themselves. Will you be screaming for Hill to score a touchdown so you can win your box pool? Will you place a prop bet on him to score the first touchdown? What if he is named MVP?

Being a fan should be simple. It should be a distraction from reality. Hill’s presence this week complicates things and raises plenty of uncomfortable questions that don’t have easy answers.

For more on the NFL playoffs, listen to the latest episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast: