You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Top Stories

NFL not suspending Tyreek Hill is a surprise — yet, also not a surprise

Sporting News logo Sporting News 7/19/2019 Tadd Haislop

Replay Video
Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

The NFL's decision not to discipline Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill for allegations of child abuse and/or a recording of threatening behavior toward his former fiancee was announced Friday, and it was met with predictable dissatisfaction.

Predictable is a key word. This kind of public malaise has become the chorus that echoes from most of the league's disciplinary decisions based on its personal conduct policy.

The reason is simple: The NFL is not capable of being a consistent, trustworthy arbiter in cases that are too complicated even for the American justice system to handle properly. The league's backpedaling in the Ray Rice case several years ago led to this kind of interposition, seemingly as a result of the pressure the league felt to take these matters of misconduct into its own hands no matter what the courts decided.

And, as the NFL continues to prove, we're asking too much of it.

MORE: NFL world stunned by Hill decision

CBS' Jason La Canfora reported that many in the NFL were "shocked by the Tyreek Hill decision." There was an expectation that Hill would be disciplined under the NFL's personal conduct policy as a result of the threatening words spoken to Crystal Espinal in a secretly recorded conversation that, per Yahoo! Sports, "included Hill and Espinal arguing about who broke their child’s arm, as Espinal accused Hill of injuring the child and also punching the boy in the chest (which Hill denied)."

The NFL's statement on Hill, released Friday, notes that "local law enforcement authorities have publicly advised that the available evidence does not permit them to determine who caused the child's injuries."

The surprise regarding the lack of discipline for Hill stems not from the alleged violence — even though the NFL's disciplinary process does not carry the same burden of proof as the legal system does — but from this threatening language: "You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb b—." This is what Hill said to Espinal after she claimed, referring to their 3-year-old son who had suffered the broken arm, "He's terrified of you."

According to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy (via Pro Football Talk), "when viewed in the context of the full 11-minute, 27-second audio recording and all other information gathered, the statement did not rise to a level of warranting discipline under the personal conduct policy."

Below are some relevant lines from the NFL's personal conduct policy. They help explain why so many are perplexed as to why Hill's behavior was not a violation.

It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.

Players convicted of a crime or subject to a disposition of a criminal proceeding (as defined in this policy) are subject to discipline. But even if the conduct does not result in a criminal conviction, players found to have engaged in any of the following conduct will be subject to discipline:

— Actual or threatened physical violence against another person, including dating violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and other forms of family violence.

In many ways, the NFL's decision not to discipline Hill is more of the same — inconsistency in the enforcement of a policy that has proven to be nothing more than a public relations tool. But it also signals a continued shift in the league's reaction to these matters.

A couple of years ago, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games after "the commissioner determined that credible evidence established that Elliot engaged in conduct that violated the NFL policy." The league decided there was "substantial and persuasive" evidence that Elliott had "engaged in physical violence" against a woman named Tiffany Thompson in 2016.

This year, Elliott again was the subject of an NFL investigation after a video surfaced of him getting into an altercation with a security guard. Goodell decided no punishment was necessary.

So what's the difference as it pertains to the policy?

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio has a theory: The NFL simply does not want its best players to miss games.

Writes Florio: "Elliot, despite video showing him confronting and possibly shoving a 19-year-old security guard and notwithstanding Elliott’s status as a prior offender (which supposedly is a big deal under the personal conduct policy), wasn’t punished. Now there’s Hill, who escaped any and all punishment with the league issuing a statement that doesn’t even address the menacing remark that prompted the Chiefs to send him away from the team’s offseason program.

"Two years ago, Hill wouldn’t have been so fortunate. Now, as the league tries to build on momentum from 2018 TV numbers fueled by an offensive explosion about which the NFL privately bragged to reporters on a near-weekly basis, it’s better for the league to have Hill on the field than it is for the league to not have Hill on the field.

"Sure, there will be complaints and objections, maybe even a loosely-organized protest. But the potential impact on the league’s business from letting Hill play is smaller than the potential impact on the league’s business from not letting him play, and that’s ultimately all the league cares about."

The Elliott and Hill cases are just a couple of the many examples of the arbitrary nature of the NFL's personal conduct policy. (Yes, Patriots fans, the Brady suspension counts, too; it is worth noting in the context of the Hill (non)decision that the New England QB was suspended four games for some deflated footballs that may or may not have been his doing.) But the Hill decision might be the best proof yet of the flawed nature of this policy.

It's also worth noting that the handling of this kind of off-field misconduct is difficult for all major American sports leagues. MLB's domestic violence policy also allows the league to discipline a player for a domestic violence incident regardless of whether there are charges or a trial, and while improvements have been made, many still think MLB does not treat some incidents as seriously as it should. The NBA has had its struggles, too.

But the NFL has been at the forefront, attempting to be something of a leader, a moral authority, as a sports league attempting to play judge and jury. As Florio notes, Goodell literally was concerned about his job security in the wake of the Rice fiasco, and the commissioner "resolved at that point that he would never, ever be accused again of going too easy on a player who misbehaves."

This is why the NFL can't be trusted with such a responsibility. As flawed as the American criminal justice system can be, it is not acting with one eye on the case and the other on television ratings. And the lack of a burden of proof in the NFL's adjudication process leaves even more room for the inconsistency that has plagued the possibility of actual justice.

The result in the Hill case was yet another surprising disciplinary decision by the NFL.

At some point, we should stop being surprised.


AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Sporting News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon